In this article, I will talk about various aspects about how to design a mushroom farm which I learned through studying not only books but also visiting different mushrooms farms and working there. Over the next paragraphs, I will guide you through the following steps.
Step 1 Phases of a mushroom company
- Own Spawn production
- Own culture bank
Step 2 Site Selection
- Criteria for site selection
- Design process
- Design principles
Step 3 Components
- Components of a mushroom farm
- how much space you need for which part of your farm
- phasing and construction management
- boundary treatments
- building for life
Step 4 Layout
- General layout
- Design principles
While each step can quickly fill a book, I will give you here a condensed version of these points and refer to them if needed.
Step 1 Phases of a mushroom company
Before thinking about design, we should think about how to start one. What do I mean by that? While growing mushrooms contain several steps to do so, you do not need all steps to have on your farm if you start from scratch. For me, there are a total of three phases in which the growth of a mushroom farm can be divided.
Phase 1 The Ready-to-Grow/Fruit
Here you buy a ready-to-grow/fruit bag (RTG), which you then put into a growing tent (Figure 1). A RTG is an inoculated and already fully colonized block of substrate (e.g., wood).
The advantages of this phase are that you “only” have to take care of the cultivation parameters and the selling part. The disadvantages are that you “only” have access to certain types of mushrooms, and your margin is lower.
Figure 1: Phase 1 – ready-to-grow bag => tent => fruiting
Phase 2 Producing your own spawn
After you learn everything about producing and selling your mushrooms, it is now time to think about producing your own spawn (video 1). This step can set your farm at great risk if you rush to fast into it. Especially if your current customers. But done properly, you can provide them with more options and better service.
Video 1: Spawn production (13s video clip)
A spawn bag is a fully colonized substrate that is then used for inoculation of the final substrate bags. This means before you get the RTG, they are inoculated with the help of a spawn bag (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Spawn bag (substrate wheat)
Depending on the size of the spawn bag and the inoculation rate, each spawn bag can be used to inoculate up to 20 RTG bags. Which means the cost per spawn bag can be divided by 20.
In addition to that, there are many more mushroom species available for you to grow than you can get as RTG.
The risk lies in the process itself which I described more in detail in my articles
Phase 3 Producing your own cultures
After you mastered the art of spawn production, the logical step is that you start producing your own cultures. If you should go this road is up to you, but this path allows you to go after local mushroom species which helps you to position yourself better in the market.
Figure 3: mushroom culture (substrate agar-agar)
Now that you know with which phase you should start; we can now begin talking about criteria for the site selection, the design process, design principles, and about different character areas. But before doing that we first have to address three essential questions.
- How much money do you want to make?
- How big should the company become?
- How big have the company to become?
The importance of these questions stems from the fact that depending on how you answer these three questions, they will determine the size of the property; you need to rent or buy! Simple like that. The implications are not!
Take a pen and a piece of paper and write down those numbers.
- Do you want to earn U$ 100,000 or U$ 250,000 per year?
- Do you want to produce 1,000 lb or 2,500 lb per month?
- Do you want to work on your own or are you thinking about having employees down the road?
And finally, we must distinguish between your companies Profit & Loss statement and your private Profit & Loss statement. Both will impact each other. If you spent too much as an individual person and your business is the only income source, it must generate way more. On the other hand, if you spent too much in your business, there might be less to take out.
If you want to read more about this topic, I wrote an article with the title “How to Interpret your Profit/Loss Statement” about that.
Step 2 Site Selection
In this step, I will talk about factors which you should have to keep in mind while searching for the perfect spot.
1. Criteria for site selection
The physical context of the site describes the geographic locale of your mushroom farm. Which means it’s about the landscape it is located in, nearby cities and High Roads and rivers/forests.
This information can be put later on your website under the about section.
But more importantly, it makes sure that your farm is easily accessible for your customers (if wanted), your employees (if desired) and especially for you and your suppliers (e.g., RTG, Spawn or substrate).
To go even deeper into this topic, you can add any historical information you can find about this location. But this is not only interesting only for your website. Depending on where you want to locate your mushroom farm, you should know as much as possible about the past of the land.
A bad reputation of the location (e.g., because of chemical usage) can harm your business. This means the site should be away from industrial pollutants like chemical fumes, coal exhaust, and other such pesticides/chemical pollutants that cause harm to mushroom production.
Landscape visual impact assessment
This topic can play an important role when it comes to the fact that you want to have visitors on your farm or the opposite, which means you do not wish to have frequent visitors.
The visual impact assessment looks from outside of your farm towards it and describes the visible changes throughout the year. This helps to figure out which part of the farm is more prone to the public than others.
Surrounding character analysis
While doing your research about the visual impact of the season on your surroundings in this section, you summarize what types of trees, bushes, etc. are growing around your farm.
You analyze what type of buildings are around your farm.
In doing so, you can better blend in your mushroom farm or stand more out.
Topography and Drainage
These two factors are critical to your farm. You already write down parameters about the location. But you should also note the climate the site is in, the altitude above sea level and if there are free-draining sands or gravels below the farm. You also need to know how flat the area is.
When looking for a site, you should make sure that you have easy access to plenty of water at the site, as the mushroom is 90% of water.
The site should not only be easily accessible for your suppliers, but it should be located as close as possible to you. This helps to keep the (travel) costs down.
On the other hand, how easy is it for you to find labor at lower costs?
The availability of electricity at competitive prices, as power consumption is tremendous in mushroom cultivation.
At the site, it should be possible to install an area in which you can dump your waste.
2. Design process
The design process is rather simple and follows a 3-step approach.
First, you just sketch the rough layout of your farm. At this point, you just put each component on the map. In the 2nd stage, you go more in the details and putting in all measures you have. Like for e.g., the sizes of the components. In the final stage, you will insert water and green areas as well as roads.
You may be talking during this stage with your local government about your plans. This makes sure that (almost) nothing will stop your business to grow or even start with.
Do not think of these peoples as “bad” people. They do just their jobs. Your job is to make their jobs easier. In doing so, they are more likely to turn the favor around (social equity).
3. Design principles
While designing your mushroom farm, you should follow certain principles to make sure you get the best out of your work. You can use the following five principles to guide you.
- Function and Quality
- Quality of the public realm
- Response to context
- Safe and accessible environments
Step 3 Components
Okay, after you assessed the type of business, which means you know in which phase you are in, you want to start as well as the location, we can now go more in the details about which components a mushroom farm needs to function correctly.
Table 1: Components of a mushroom farm
Starting at the RTG-Phase reduces the number of components of your business right from the beginning. This reduction is in my point of view, crucial to your success because with fewer things in mind you stay more focused and therefore make fewer errors, which leads to lower risk for your endeavor. Do not worry, you will make errors, many mistakes in fact down the road that’s life, but the fewer areas you must deal with the lower the likelihood for making them.
The reduction helps you to focus on the essential things first, too. In the beginning, everything you should focus on is to produce high-quality mushrooms and selling them to your customers. These two areas will take all your energy and therefore cutting down everything else which is not needed.
The reduction helps you to reduce the initial starting costs, too. With fewer components to buy, build, or rent, you need less capital to start.
But not only the starting costs are lower your equipment will be used more efficiently. If you buy or build a sterilization chamber and you only run in once a week that’s not efficient. Mainly because you do not know the exact size to purchase or build. Sure, you can go for a modular one, but this brings disadvantages to it as well.
Step 4 Layout
Now that we have an overview of all the components we need, we can start drawing some designs.
1. General layout
In the general layout, we place all the components we need on one page. We then will arrange first accordingly to the process flow (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Process flow within a mushroom farm
Growing mushrooms starts with the receiving of the raw materials, mixing and sterilizing them, and so on. But the process flow is not what the real world looks like (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Material flow within a mushroom farm
As you can see the material within a mushroom farm is moving between all your rooms. How often and how much goes something from one room to another is determined by how close these rooms are.
Because every time you must move something, it will cost you time. And time is money. This means if you mess here something up, you pay every time you move around. And that hurts. Especially if you are aware of this aspect.
The next thing we must consider is the movement of you and your employees. The more you move around, as mentioned before, the more it costs you. This is not only true for the material but also for people.
But when it comes to the general layout, we not only have to think about the process flow and material flow, we also must think in terms of dirty and clean. What do I mean by that? Let’s have a look at figure 6.
In figure 6, we arrange the components not only by the process flow but by stacking them, we reduced already the number of movements within the farm.
Figure 6: Example of an arrangement according to the process flow and movement
But that’s not enough. Different rooms have different requirements concerning hygiene. We, therefore, must rearrange the rooms so that we do not move from dirty rooms to clean rooms (Figure 7). Or to rephrase it
“Every material moves from dirty to clean, but people move from clean to dirty!”
If you follow this simple rule, you reduce a lot of contamination sources and therefore avoiding running into problems.
Figure 7: Example of an arrangement under the aspect of dirty and clean areas
If you have figured out how to arrange each component on the farm, you know roughly the size of the farm as well. More importantly, you know how much space you must keep free for later expansion. For example, if you do not need a mixing and sterilization area, you just leave these two places empty.
But you already know where on your farm they will be placed when the time is coming. This helps you avoiding rearranging or moving longer than necessary on the farm because you were too lazy thinking about this point in the first place. And as you already know, laziness comes at a price.
2. Design principles
After we figured out where to put each room, we can think more in detail about how to design each room. In the following paragraphs, I will give you some guidance on what you must keep in mind while designing them. For this purpose, I will use a room with 23.00 square meters.
We first start with a straightforward layout (Figure 8). Each shelf is 1.5 x 0.5 meters, which gives us a total of 9.00 square meters of shelf space. With a total of 12 shelves. In between the shelves and between the shelves and the wall we have a walkway of 50 cm. The total walkway sums up to 14.00 square meters.
The ratio between the shelf space and the walkway is, therefore 0.64:1.
Figure 8: Room example 1
Let’s take the same ground floor of 23.00 square meters, but this time, we arrange the shelves differently (Figure 9). By rearranging the shelves, we now could bring in four more shelves, which increases the total shelf space to 12.00 square meters. We gained 33% of shelf space! In doing so, we cut down the walkway to 11.00 square meters.
The ration between shelf space and walkway is now 1.09:1. Way better.
Figure 9: Room example 2
But we still can improve the design. What if we could get rid of almost all walkways but still can access each shelf easily? Possible? Absolutely!
Just have a look at picture 10. In this example, we placed each shelf to the next with no gap in between. The only gap we left open is on one side of the room. In doing so, we could extend to a total of 22 shelves. These 22 shelves increase the total shelf space to 16.5 square meters. Which is a gain of 144% in comparison with the first example.
The walkway is now cut down to only 6.5 square meters, which brings the ratio between shelf space and walkway up to 2.53:1.
Figure 10: Room example 3
We went from a ratio of 0.64:1 to a ratio of 2.54:1. That is a total gain of almost 300%!!
This means instead of building 3 rooms, you just need one. But there is a caveat to it. The more mushrooms you grow within one room, the better you must take care of all the parameters because contamination spreads fast.
How do you get there? By using trolleys as shelves instead of fixed ones!
If you used trolleys instead of fixed shelves, it would help you also to cut downtime while moving within the farm. You do not have to pick up bags or trays every time you move the whole trolley. If you think about this design principle itself in all its details, you will notice that it will save you a ton of money in the long run.
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If you are wondering why I did not distinguish between indoor and outdoor farms, I will say that you have a good point, but if you follow all to this point, you are already aware off that you can apply many of these principles to both types of growing mushrooms.
But in both versions, you must think about how to prevent contamination. We already addressed some aspects of it. But I will give you two more things to ponder.
First, what kind of clothes are you and your employees are wearing?
And second, how you design the entrance of each room.
When designing a farm, you will eventually come to the point that some regulations will be kicking in. This is especially true for western countries like Germany. But do not skip this section if you are not living in Germany, because it helps you to reduce your risks on your farm wherever you are living. Use these regulations as a guideline, and you will distinguish yourself from your competitors as well.
The first point I want to address is emergency exits. While designing your farm always have in mind how fast you can exit each room in case of emergency?
On emergency could be fire. This especially if we think about the substrates we are using. Think while designing your farm how you can prevent fire and put some countermeasures into place.
Speaking of fire. Make sure that your substrate is safely stored and there are measures in place to 1) prevent a breakout, 2) fight a breakout, and 3) prevent the fire from spreading.
The next danger can come from the CO2 the mushrooms are producing. Please put some CO2 monitors in place and train people when and when not to enter a specific room (e.g., incubation room).
And finally, hygiene. Improper hygiene can not only lead to contamination that reduces your yield but also can lead to a bad reputation is the words are spreading. Which can lead to a shutdown of your business by the authorities.
To prevent contamination spreading, you should think about systems and practices. Systems are countermeasures that are installed permanently on your farm (like, e.g., double doors, sinks, disinfectant).
Practices are all activities you and your employees have to follow to prevent or to spread contamination (like, e.g., walking from clean to dirty).
The important is that you have to check them both regularly. Make it a habit, and you are more likely to keep contamination under control.