This section is from the book "Studies of American Fungi: Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, Etc.", by George Francis Atkinson. Also available from Amazon: Studies of American Fungi: Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, Etc..
The increasing interest in mushrooms during the past few years has not been confined to the kinds growing spontaneously in fields and woods, but the interest aroused in the collection and study of the wild varieties has been the means of awakening a general interest in the cultivation of mushrooms. This is leading many persons to inquire concerning the methods of cultivation, especially those who wish to undertake the cultivation of these plants on a small scale, in cellars or cool basements, where they may be grown for their own consumption. At somewhat frequent intervals articles appear in the newspapers depicting the ease and certainty with which mushrooms can be grown, and the great profits that accrue to the cultivator of these plants. While the profits in some cases, at least in the past, have been very great to cultivators of mushrooms, the competition has become so general that through a large part of the year the market price of mushrooms is often not sufficient to much more than pay expenses. In fact, it 'is quite likely that in many cases of the house cultivation of mushrooms the profits are no larger, taking the season through, than they are from the cultivation of tomatoes or other hothouse vegetables. Occasionally some persons, who may be cultivating them upon a small scale in houses erected for some other purpose, or perhaps partly used for some other purpose, may succeed in growing quite a large crop from a small area with little expenditure of time and money. The profits figured from such a crop grown on a small scale where the investment in houses, heating apparatus, and time, is not counted, may appear to be very large, but they do not represent the true conditions of the industry where the expense of houses and the cost of time and labor are taken into consideration.
Probably the more profitable cultivation of mushrooms in this country is where the cultivation is practiced on quite a large scale, in tunnels, or caves, or abandoned mines, where no expense is necessary in the erection of houses. The temperature throughout the year is favorable for the growth of the mushrooms without artificial heating. It is possible, also, to grow them on a large scale during the warm summer months when it is impossible to grow them under the present conditions in heating house structures, and also when the market price of the mushrooms is very high, and can be controlled largely by the grower. For this reason, if it were possible to construct a house with some practical system of cooling the air through the summer, and prevent the drip, the cultivation in houses would probably be more profitable.
For the past few years the writer has been giving some attention to the different methods of the cultivation of mushrooms in America, and in response to the growing interest for information concerning the artificial cultivation of these plants, it has seemed well to add this chapter on the cultivation of mushrooms to the second edition of the present work. The cultivation as practiced in America exists under a great variety of conditions. All of these conditions have not been thoroughly investigated, and yet a sufficient number of them have been rather carefully studied to warrant the preparation of this chapter. The illustrations which have been made from time to time, by flash light, of the cave culture of mushrooms in America, as well as of the house culture, will serve to illustrate graphically some of the stages in the progress of the work. For present purposes we will consider, first, the conditions under which the cultivation is carried on, followed by a discussion of the principles involved in the selection and preparation of the material, the selection and planting of the spawn, as well as the harvesting of the crop.
View in Akron "tunnel," N. Y. Mushroom Co. Beds beginning to bear. Copyright.