Gut Health Gurus Blog

Tony Shields on The Art of Growing Mushrooms

Tony Shields on The Art of Growing Mushrooms
growing mushrooms

Home Growing mushrooms has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Being able to grow medicinal mushrooms in the comfort of your own home has many benefits. And it's a great hobby to pick up! Beginners and experts alike can benefit from this conversation with Tony Shields. Read on to learn about which mushroom is the best to start with, tips for beginners AND experts, and how you can grow them!

How Did Your Mushroom Journey Start?

I have had a lifelong fascination with mushrooms, mycology, and fungi. I loved seeing mushrooms in the woods and at the grocery store. I always thought it would be fun to get a mushroom kit. Then 9 years ago I started to grow mushrooms myself. Since there wasn’t a lot of great information out there, I started messing around. It was the same story as people that try to grow mushrooms, you fail. That is how I learned to keep taking the next step. After several failures, I eventually got it right and started growing mushrooms like crazy.

The house was full of mushrooms and Petri dishes. Around 2015 I thought “let's make a go at this and make it a career.” Our original plan was to have a medicinal mushroom farm. We built a mushroom farm at home. We grew mushrooms like crazy and when it came to expanding the farm we took a step back. I started to put together a website because I wanted to teach other people. That took wings on it’s own and before I knew it, my interest in functional mushrooms and mushrooms for health blossomed. My wife has a background in food product development so we put that together and we launched our first medicinal mushroom product. Which is primarily what my business, Fresh Cap, does today. We teach people how to grow mushrooms and we sell medical mushroom products as well!

What Is The First Type Of Mushroom You Tried To Grow? 

The first type I tried to grow was Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus.) That was the typical mushroom you would see at the grocery store. But of course I didn’t know a lot about the process and it was difficult to do from home. 

The first one I SUCCESSFULLY grew was the Blue Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) This is a simple mushroom to grow. I grew it in my backyard and seeing this growth is what led me down the path and never turning back on mushrooms. 

One of the fascination with me was a study a couple of years ago on white button mushrooms and how good they are for gut health.-Kriben Govender

mushroom growing

What Are the Benefits of Mushrooms?

The health benefits of mushrooms are wide in scope and new benefits are being discovered all of the time. It also depends on how the mushrooms are processed. For example: Fresh mushrooms are going to have a different amount of benefits vs mushroom extracts & dried mushrooms. Overall, mushrooms are a great health food that we need to be looking at a lot more.

The biggest benefit I've seen from mushrooms is immune support. I used to get sick all of the time, every 3 to 4 months. Since I started taking mushrooms 3 years ago, I have not been sick once. Every time I start to feel run down I take a triple dose of mushrooms and I get over it. It has been pretty amazing and I do think of each mushroom as its own superhero: 

Turkey Tail 

High in fungal beta-glucans. The extracts of this mushroom are really good for supporting your immune system.

Lion's mane 

Thought of as a brain mushroom. It helps memory focus and cognitive function.

I use lion's mane before podcasting for cognitive function. I use it for cognitive boosting if I have to get into heavy thinking type work or if I am going into a podcast or a speaking event, I will have a double packet of lion mane. It helps me to focus and concentrate. -Kriben Govender


Is one of the highest sources of antioxidants. 

Typically if I feel a bit run down or a cold coming on I dose up with Chaga.-Kriben Govender

Chaga is a great way to boost the immune system and that's what the book, “Healing mushrooms”, talks about. The author and founder of four sigmatic, Tero Isokauppila, talks about taking Chaga mushroom extract when he starts to feel sick and he hasn't been sick in 10 years.


People use it for energy, endurance, and athletic performance. Cordycep mushrooms are a natural pre-workout. A lot of people add it into their pre-workout smoothie and it is really helpful for endurance. One of our mushroom powered athletes, Anthony Kunkle, runs 100-mile races and he used cordyceps on a long term program to help his endurance and help him get through those long races..

The first time I started getting into mushrooms was from the Tim Ferris podcast. And he promotes Four Sigmatic. I have another company called Allele Microbiome, and we do research on what's happening in the gut microbiome through fecal stool analysis. We have recently started to investigate yeast and fungi closely and I think there is a substantial effect on gut health. Even though the yeast and fungi don't have as much abundance as bacteria, the early research is suggesting these yeast and fungi are having a huge role equally as much as bacteria in the gut. -Kriben Govender. 

Using mushrooms as a prebiotic, meaning a food for good bacteria in the gut, may help glucose regulation. White button mushrooms can create shifts in the microbial communities in the gut which can improve the regulation of glucose in the liver according to a team of researchers. They also suggest that better understanding of this link between mushrooms and gut microbiome in mice could one day pave the way for new diabetes treatments and prevention strategies ! -Kriben Govender

What About Mycorrhizal Fungi?

These live in symbiosis with other plants. Mycorrhizal fungi act as an extension of the roots of the plants. They help the plants grow and be healthier which would help with the CO2. Mushrooms breathe much the same as we do. They breathe oxygen and they give off CO2. 

I have been to mushroom farms where on one side the farm they have plants growing in aquaponics and on the other side of the farm they are growing mushrooms. They can use the excess oxygen from the plant side for the mushrooms and the excess CO2 from the mushroom side to feed the plants. These things work together.

I always go back to nature. Nature is such a good example of how things work. If you look at how a plane functions it's almost like using the design of a bird. It is how Leonardo da Vinci worked, by going back to the elements of nature. In the gut, these fungal and yeast characters are eukaryotes. They are similar to our cells (unlike bacteria which are simple organisms.) I hypothesise that these networks form a “communication highway” in the gut. Looking at the soil and what's happening to rainforests and comparing that to what's happening in the gut, I think things are parallel. -Kriben Govender

Another analogy is that the mycelial network is the internet of the forest. All these things are connected through the mycelium and everything can talk to each other through the forest.

mushroom benefits

The Common Mushroom Growing Terms

Grain Spawn: you can think of this as the seed. If you want to plant a tomato you get a tomato seed and you put it into the soil. If you wanted to plant mushrooms you would take grain spawn and you would plant that into a substrate.


The substrate = soil 

The grain spawn = the seeds

The grain spawn is some type of cereal grain that has been hydrated. It has a lot of moisture on the inside but is dry on the outside and then sterilized. All of the other molds, yeasts, and fungi that would compete with the cereal grain have naturally been killed off. That is done in a pressure cooker. 

Then you add the mushroom culture to the grain spawn. This is known as mycelium. It is the white stuff that you see when you lift up moss on the forest floor. If you have a specific species and a specific type, that is a culture.

A Plug: some mushrooms, like shiitake, are grown on logs. People drill holes into a log and stuff a plug into that as a way to inoculate a log. The plugs are wood that has been colonized by mushroom mycelium, much the same as grain spawn. But instead of grain, it is wood dowels.

Tips For a Beginner

Watch the YouTube video HERE to see a behind the scenes view of the different stages!

There are three different levels for mushroom growing:

Level 1: Mushroom Kits- they aren't sustainable in the long run but it gives people the idea of how mushrooms grow. You put a slice in them soak it in water and if it stays humid enough it will fruit through this kit. These are mushroom fruiting blocks from a mushroom farm and they put a box around it and that’s the kit. You can make your own mushroom fruiting blocks, relatively easy. 

Level 2: Using commercial grain spawns- Fruiting blocks are made by a sterilized substrate (sawdust, soybean hulls) something for the mushrooms to feed on. To that, you will add grain spawn. This is a grain that is covered in the white mushroom mycelium. When you add those two together, the culture will start to fully colonize that block and then you have a mushroom grow kit. This is relatively easy! You get a pressure cooker, you sterilize the substrate, you find a clean area in your house and you inoculate it with the grain spawn and if all goes well you won't have contamination. 

Level 3: Making your own grain spawn. It is as far down the rabbit hole as you can go but it is limitless. You take a mushroom culture from someone who grows mushrooms and you add it into sterilized grains to make your own grain spawn and then you can add it to a fruiting block. 

Those are the 3 levels. Some people try to jump in at the hardest level and struggle their way down until they figure it out and others take a step by step approach. 

I dove off the deep end and failed miserably and wasted money on buying sterilized grain. -Kriben Govender

Culture goes into sterilized grain -> goes into the substrate = how you grow mushrooms.

indoor mushroom growing

What is the Difference Between a Culture and a Spore?

Spores are the things that come out on the underside of the mushroom and they blow out into the air and grow mushrooms. A spore only contains half of the genetic material that a mushroom needs to grow. What happens is, two spores get together and they both put out something called hyphae. When those meet they eventually turn into mycelium. 

A Culture is mycelium. It contains all the genetic information to fruit mushrooms

A Spore is the initial stage and only contains half the genetic information

If you try to grow mushrooms from spores it can be done but the genetics are a crapshoot. You put the spores into a substrate and they all sporulate and you have no idea what genetics you are going to get. Whereas the cultures have been studied over the years and they are known. They know how it is going to fruit and perform. This is what they use at commercial mushroom farms (they would never start from spores.)

The Process of Growing Mushrooms

The easiest way to start is to buy commercial grain spawn. They usually ship you a bag that is 2 pounds, covered in mycelium and the species. You would add that into a substrate (hardwood sawdust is least likely to contaminate) and you’ll need to sterilize this. Because we are creating a perfect environment not only for the mushrooms but for the bacteria mold and fungi. If we sterilize it then the mycelium has no competition. There are also exceptions to this. Mushrooms grow in the woods and nothing is being sterilized so one-way people can grow mushrooms at home is to make a simple garden bed or in a 5-gallon bucket:

Garden Bed

Layer down straw/ soaked wood chips

Grain spawn

straw/soaked wood chips

Grain spawn

Then over the course of 6 weeks, the mycelium will work its way through those wood chips. And they will more often than not, fruit! That is the easiest.

Five Gallon Bucket:

The second easiest, if you have the grain spawn, is to use a 5-gallon bucket. Take a plastic 5-gallon bucket, put quarter-inch holes every 2 inches all around the bucket and then put that aside. Get a bunch of wood chips (you can even get them at the pet store!) You want to look for hardwood (aspect, birch, poplar.) This is because some species of trees, like softwoods, have antifungal properties. 

You take those hardwood chips and you just soak them overnight in a big tote of really hot water. That is going to do a couple of things: the hot water's going to pasteurize (it's going to kill off a lot of that competing bacteria) and the soaking is going to kind of soften up the chips and gives the mushrooms a really good chance to get in there and work their magic 

Then the next day you have soaked pasteurized hardwood chips, your grain spawn and just start layering them in that bucket the same as you would in a garden and the ratio is about two and a half pounds of grain spawns for about 25 lb of substrate. That's pretty much all you need to do. You let it sit in a cool dark place, maybe drape a bag over it so it doesn't dry out, and within two to three weeks that bucket will be fully colonized in beautiful white mushroom mycelium. Then you can put it in tall grass or the corner of your house or somewhere that's kind of humid. And the mushrooms will fruit right through those holes.

You shouldn’t be afraid to try it. Growing mushrooms isn't as complicated as it sounds. 

growing mushrooms

More Experienced Mushroom Growing Tips

If you have spores to start with and you colonize the spores onto brown rice flour, how long it takes depends on the species. Some are really quick and take a week (pink oysters) and some take a little longer. It takes from 1 week to 3 weeks to colonize. That will also depend on how much you add.

If you add a lot of mycelium it might colonize a lot faster, if you mix it better. It's from a week to 3 weeks. If you go with spores then it will take even longer.

You’ll know this process is completed because it will be “fully colonized”. As you're watching the mycelium go through the grains or substrate you'll see it grow. Once you can't see any substrate, all you can see is pure white mycelium that is ready to fruit. 

A great resource is this Tim Ferriss podcast episode featuring Paul Stamets

Another great resource is Paul Stamets book, “Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms

What is the Next Step After Having the Fully Colonized Block?

There are three factors that you need after you have the fully colonized block:

1st, Humidity: Mushrooms like to fruit in humid, cool environments so to encourage the mushroom to fruit you need to put it in this environment. You can put your “cake” in a shotgun fruiting chamber. This is a tote with a bunch of holes in it so it has places to release humidity. It provides a perfect environment for mushrooms to fruit. A spray bottle is a great idea to keep the humidity in there too! 2-3 times a day open the lid and spray it. You can also get a hydrometer and it will tell you where you are at. You should stay above 80% humidity. If you go to a dry environment for too long, the mushrooms will stop growing. 

2nd, Light You also need to ensure that the mushrooms get adequate light. The one misconception is that mushrooms grow in the dark but most need some light. It can trigger them into fruiting. Put it by a window or somewhere that it will get light. Any type of ambient light will work but they researched this to see the frequencies and blue light is the best trigger. If you have to pick a spectrum, pick a blue light spectrum (white light).

3rd, Fresh Air. As the mycelium is growing it is producing a lot of CO2. If you were to go inside of this mushroom grow bag it would have a really high concentration of CO2 but once you open it the concentration drops. That is another trigger for the mushrooms to grow. If they don't get enough fresh air, you will end up with this long weird-looking mushrooms with tiny caps. They are just looking for that fresh air. 

Fresh Air, Humidity, and Light = Fully Colonized

When Do You Harvest Your Mushrooms?

You want to harvest them right before they drop their spores. Because if you wait till afterward, the mushroom quality starts to decrease. You can tell when they are going to open their spores because the cap starts to open up. If they do drop their spores it's not a huge deal it might just be a bit of a mess.

What Is Cloning?

When you think of a mushroom fruiting body, it contains all of the information to keep it going. Inside of the mushroom stem is mycelium and cloning is taking a copy of that culture.

Cloning is a way to keep a genetic record of mushrooms.

Example: If you saw a nice mushroom in the forest and you decided you wanted to grow it at home, you could take the fruiting body, rip it in half, scrape a piece of tissue and put it on agar. That agar will start to grow across the plate then you have your very own strain and culture of mushrooms. Cloning is a way to copy a mushroom culture. But this will only work for certain types of mushrooms. The mycorrhizal mushrooms cannot be cultured easily. The easiest ones to replicate are the ones that form on decaying matter!

Most people don't realize that bananas are all cloned. Every banana that you eat is cloned. They are genetically identical. Bananas don't grow naturally. It is the same process from the 100's of years ago when someone discovered a certain type of banana that was yellow and sweet and everyone kept cloning it. A lot of fruits and vegetables that we eat are cloned from tissue cultures -Kriben Govender

What Is The Easiest Recipe for Agar?

You can go to a commercial supplier and they will sell Agar mix. Then all you have to do is sterilize that. You chop it all up and then put it on a plate but the mycelium needs nutrition as well. That is where you would add:

-Potato dextrose 

-Malt Extract

The easiest recipe is:

20 grams of malt extract

20 grams of agar powder

2 grams of nutritional yeast (many other recipes you can even use dog food instead of malt extract!) 

1 litre of water

You mix it up and then you have to sterilize that. I put it in a mason jar and put it in the pressure cooker and sterilize it for 45 minutes at 15 psi. When it comes out you have the pure agar. You can pour this into Petri dishes in a sterile environment either by a hood or inside a still air box (which is a tote with a place for your hands and you can work inside of that box.)

Once you learn how to make agar the sky's the limit. You can do anything in mycology and it doesn't have to be as complicated as it sounds…

If you don't have Petri dishes, you can use little mason jars

If you don't have parafilm, you can use masking tape

If you don't have agar from a lab you can use agar agar from the grocery store

There are simple substitutions you can make to get started.

growing medicinal mushrooms

Do You Need a Hole in a Mason Jar Lid When Making Grain Spawn?

You do not need it but it acts as a filter. As this mycelium is growing it needs to breathe. You can use poly stuffing or microspore tape to cover the hole which acts as a filter so the contaminants stay on the outside. For a pressure cooker, if you don't have the hole it, it will be okay. When you are pressure cooking you need to make sure that it cools down slowly and all the pressure is released slowly. If you were to open it up when it was hot and under pressure then you might end up breaking a jar. But if it heats up and cools down slowly you won't have any issues. The same goes for making agar. You need to let it cook down quite a bit. 

What Are Your Thoughts on Psilocybin Mushrooms For Mental Health Benefits?

Anything that we can do to make the world a healthier and happier place I want to get behind 100%. They are researching it and they are finding benefits for:


-Mental Health


-End of life care

Then we need to look at these things and not brush them under the rug because they were made illegal many years ago. I am fascinated by all things fungi. Amazingly, people are becoming brave enough to do this research. One book I read recently was “how to change your mind” and he provides a very lucid explanation on all of this, not just mushrooms but other substances as well. It needs to be explored.

In the right clinical context, with the proper aftercare and physician, and having the pre & post follow up care is very important for that adoption into our society. In the next few years, we will see more traction-gaining. I hope so because anxiety and depression is a huge burden to societies all across the world. Let's hope that common sense prevails and people get legal access to these substances- Kriben Govender

What Are We Eating That Is Contributing to our Mental Health Issues?

You can read more about this HERE. Ted Dinan coined a term: psychobiotic, which is something that impacts how you feel. The simplest way to explain the gut and brain connection is by talking about what connects them, the vagus nerve. What goes on in the gut is impacting the brain and vice versa, it is a bidirectional connection. The lowest hanging fruit is processed foods. Anything that is going to impact your gut flora in a negative way you need to eliminate. 

Bifidobacteria are producing tryptophan in our gut which is converted into serotonin which is converted into melatonin. So it may impact how you feel then it may affect how you sleep. The easiest way is to just cook food from scratch! That will help get rid of the chemicals and antibiotics that are coming through our food supply. 

Another obvious thing is water. The chlorine in your water is antibiotic by nature. They are going to impact gut flora. We are trying to encourage as much of your peace-keeping bacteria (lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) as possible. The biggest source of antibiotics in our bodies is coming from meat. A lot of meat processing and farmed fish because they add the antibiotics in to get a mass/yield benefit. A simple way is to be really conscious of what you are putting into your body because it will have a downstream effect on how you feel. We have seen studies where they can look at your gut signature and determine the likelihood of you having anxiety and depression, just from the species of bacteria in your gut. 

I can look at a stool chart at my company, Allele Microbiome, and tell you with certainty that this person may suffer from anxiety and depression. We are trying to foster the right bacteria but we need to get out of the way. Stop putting the bad toxins eg. glyphosate in our bodies.

Include things like:

Raw cacao

Green tea

Fermented foods

Prebiotics like acacia fibre, GOS, or partially hydrolyzed guar gum

All of these are great for encouraging bifidobacteria which will help you to produce tryptophan and then you can use something like sunlight to convert that tryptophan to melatonin. Get sunlight in your eyes in the morning, eat dinner earlier, and practice intermittent fasting. All of these strategies help to improve your gut health to improve your mental health. 

There you have it. All of the tips and tricks for growing mushrooms from beginners to experts. Remember to sterilize, have the 3 factors present for growing mushrooms (light, humidity, and fresh air), eat medicinal mushrooms for health benefits, and that it is not as complicated as it sounds. Share this with a friend you can start growing mushrooms with!

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