Discover tips for cordyceps mushroom growing, including strain recommendations and info for inoculation, incubation, pinning, fruiting, and harvesting

Cordyceps cultivation is actually an easier method of cultivation than most specialty mushrooms. The difficult parts are finding a strain that will fruit and growing it at a commercial scale.

Learn about cordyceps mushroom growing from our trials discussed below.

The cordyceps mushroom growing process: Strain and Spawn 

During trials at Fungi Ally, five different strains of cordyceps were cultivated. These five strains were: WPB, 2NB1, RUP, Shanghai, 003

Of these, two did the best, both from commercial strains which came from outside of the United States. Many of the U.S.-based strains are wild clones and have not yet been developed or thoroughly tested to produce high yields. Strains grown in Thailand, China, and India have typically been bred to be fast-growing, high-yielding strains. The strain which fruited most abundantly was a clone from Shanghai. The next highest fruiter was from India. These strains also had the most consistent fruiting with all jars from the Shanghai strain fruiting and all but two of the jars from the RUP strain fruiting. Of 33 jars, the WPB strain had 17 that did not fruit but were well colonized, and strain 2NB1 had 11 jars out of 28 that fully colonized but did not fruit. Calculating the average yield without jars that did not fruit had little to no impact on yield averages. The average yield per jar from the Shanghai strain was 11.6 grams.

The mushrooms of this strain were very dense and would be a great culinary mushroom. Shanghai or RUP would definitely be the strains I would work with if growing cordyceps. In Fungi Ally trials, petri plates were expanded directly onto the fruiting media. Several times, we tried to grow 5-pound bags of grain spawn but they did not colonize well. This would be a huge advancement in cordyceps cultivation as spawning rates could be much higher allowing for faster growth and likely higher yields. Liquid culture can be used for cordyceps cultivation as well making the use of a flow hood unnecessary. For more information around liquid culture technique, check out Peter McCoy on Youtube.

Check out this article on our website that discussed media preparation and containers to use for cordyceps mushroom growing.

The cordyceps mushroom growing process: Inoculation 

Currently, cordyceps spawn is not available through the internet or typical spawn providers. To inoculate, we used wedges from fully grown petri plates. After the bags were cooled overnight, they were moved in front of a flow hood in a positive pressure lab. The flow hood filters all airborne contaminants out so the sterilized media can be safely open and inoculated. Petri plates were cut into 8 pie slices and one slice was placed into each jar. Once the wedge was placed into the jar the top was closed and the jar was moved to incubation.

The cordyceps mushroom growing process: Incubation

Spawn run is very straightforward for cordyceps. The cordyceps mycelium will grow vigorously in the dark at temperatures between 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit. If grain spawn was able to be developed, this incubation time could be minimized, increasing the commercial viability of this crop. Spawn run typically took about 21 days for most strains. Several of the lower-yielding strains took longer but on average, it was a 21 day process until full colonization was complete.

The cordyceps mushroom growing process: Pinning and fruiting

Fruiting is initiated primarily by changing the light cycles. Temperature can play a factor as well, depending on what the incubation temperature was. A 16 hour on and 8 hour off light cycle is ideal for fruiting cordyceps, they are extremely phototropic and will grow towards any source of light. If fruiting on shelving, it is helpful to have lights on each layer. In our trials, regular fluorescent shop lights were used. Temperature should not rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit as this will fry and kill the fruiting bodies. Ideally, temperatures during fruiting should stay between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. The jar is left as is, so oxygen levels and humidity do not need to be monitored or maintained during cordyceps fruiting. This makes cordyceps fruiting especially appealing because a lot of energy is utilized fruiting other specialty mushrooms with exchanging air and maintaining proper humidity levels.

The cordyceps mushroom growing process: Harvest

Fruiting can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, a very long fruiting cycle for a fleshy mushroom. Luckily, very little maintenance is needed during this time period. Fruiting bodies will continue to grow until they reach the top of the jar, but sometimes mushrooms don’t get that high. Harvesting should occur when the mushrooms are done growing or reach maximum height in the container.

Both the grain medium and fruiting bodies can be harvested and utilized. The grain medium is what most US based medicinal mushroom companies use now. This can be made into a tempeh dish or extracted for any health benefits that can be found in the mycelium/substrate combination. The fruiting bodies can be used fresh for culinary purposes, for example to make delicious broths, or they can be extracted with hot water and alcohol. Cordyceps is not typically fruited for a second time. With the Shanghai strain, jars averaged about 12 grams of fruiting bodies. The average weight of substrate and cordyceps mycelium was 51 grams. If these products were sold for similar prices to the ones cited above or mixed together and sold as some companies do, cordyceps production would be economical on a commercial scale.

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