By Tyler Koslow
You've grown your own shrooms and now they're ready to be dried and consumed—but first things first, how do you know how to harvest mushrooms?
If you’ve just embarked on your journey to become a magic mushroom cultivator, there’s a lot of information to digest before you can succeed in yielding a bountiful harvest.
For starters, the process of growing magic mushrooms is extraordinarily time sensitive and subject to volatility. You need to craft a contained environment that reaches nearly 100 percent humidity, carefully mist the mushroom bed without overwatering, and provide the exact amount of light to ensure the production of a healthy and aesthetically attractive psychedelic mushroom.
But once your small pin-shaped mushrooms quickly start to develop into stems dressed with hearty caps, an equally pressing matter emerges: When to harvest magic mushrooms?
Not only do you need to know how to pick mushrooms, you also need to harvest them at the right time. Missing the window by just a few hours can be the difference between dazzling golden caps and mushrooms tarnished with oily black ink from spores.
To make sure you have a successful mushroom harvest that looks as good as they make you feel, we spoke to an expert to help explain when and how to harvest your magic mushrooms.
When to Harvest Magic Mushrooms
The first step to mastering the art of harvesting shrooms is knowing the precise time to pick them. When growing magic mushrooms, you’re allotted a small amount of time between the pinning process and the ideal harvesting window.
With Psilocybe cubensis, the most popular and easiest type of magic mushroom to grow, you have just a few days after the pinning process to harvest. The pinning process entails creating a proper and extremely humid environment to cause little white pins to emerge from the casing. Once these pins start to form, they’ll quickly grow into mushrooms. The goal is to harvest your shrooms right before the pin develops into a fruiting body, which happens in a matter of days.
“In general, once a pin starts to form, I think you’re within 72 hours or three days at most before that pin fully develops into a fruiting body,” Del Potter, PhD, CSO of Leef Labs and AYA Biosciences, tells DoubleBlind. “Some people might say that I pick a bit early, and I do that to avoid the possibility that the veil will break and it will distribute spores on the surface.”
By letting the magic mushrooms open up and become fully fruiting bodies, you risk having the veil break open, causing spores to be distributed over other shrooms growing in the casing.
“When the veil opens up, you run the risk of dropping spores onto the surface of the bed,” Potter explains. “There’s some indication that this will interfere with further production, and also it’s of concern because of cosmetic problems. The spores have a black inky oily appearance that ends up on the surface of other caps, and ends up being sort of problematic.”
How to Tell When Your Magic Mushrooms Are Ready to Harvest
While the three day period that transpires between pinning and full development provides a general sense of when to harvest magic mushrooms, it’s even more essential to know how to identify the perfect time to pick.
Experienced growers like Potter typically prefer to follow each mushroom individually, waiting for each to reach its full potential before harvesting them. Harvesting them all at once may save more time, but you’ll end up with a less bountiful or premature yield.
“I think you should examine each pin as it develops,” says Potter. “When it reaches that perfect point, that’s the time to harvest it.”
So, when is that so-called “perfect point” you should keep an eye out for? There are a couple of identifiers that will signify when it’s time to start harvesting.
Most importantly, you should see the cap of the mushroom change from a rounded, globular shape to a more convex shape that protrudes over the stem. The color of the mushroom, which starts as a deep and dark reddish-brown color, will gradually become lighter as the cap matures and starts to change in shape.
When the convex shaped cap becomes apparent and the color starts to lighten, your shrooms are about ready to harvest. One area of the cap to keep a close eye on is the veil. You want to see the underside of the cap start to stretch, but not fully open up into an umbonate, flattened shape.
How to Harvest Mushrooms: A Step-by-Step Process
Now that we’ve got the timing and visual cues down, it’s time to learn how to pick shrooms in the most effective and prudent way.
As discussed, the general rule of thumb is to start picking the shrooms once the cap is open, but before the veil has broken and released spores. Many commercial growers utilize a mushroom knife, allowing them to cut the stem close to the surface and leave a small stump behind. With large-scale productions, it’s important to harvest quickly before the spores start to spill out onto the bed.
For those dealing with a smaller setup at home, you don’t need the mushroom knife to successfully harvest your shrooms, though having one may certainly still come in handy. Assuming you don’t have a cutting tool at your disposal, here’s a quick rundown on how to harvest your shrooms by hand.
Read: How to Dry Shrooms
1. Put on rubber gloves that are completely sterile, eliminating any chance of contamination by bacteria or mold. You should also wash your hands with soap and water before starting. Additionally, any tools or containers used during the harvesting process should also be sterilized prior to coming in contact with freshly picked shrooms.
2. Place two of your fingers at the base of the mushroom, gently twisting and pulling the bottom of the stem in a counter-clockwise direction. Gently break the strands that are holding the stump in place without damaging the mycelium network below the stem.
3. For any shorter or hard-to-reach mushrooms leftover in the bin, you can use tweezers to carefully pick them.
4. Use a brush to remove any remaining substrate or peat moss clinging to the stem.
For home growers, Potter explains that an alternative method would be to gently grab the base of the mushroom and remove the stump instead of breaking it. From there, you can cut the stump off and rid yourself of any peat moss or substrate that is adhering to the base. Both methods should work, but this one allows you to harvest the mushrooms more quickly and to deal with the stumps later on.
What If You Harvest Magic Mushrooms Too Late?
Now, if you happen to harvest your magic mushrooms a bit too late, that doesn’t necessarily mean your batch is worthless. Although there’s some indication that the release of spores could disrupt the production of fruiting bodies, the main issue with harvesting once the cap flattens comes down to aesthetics.
When growing and harvesting Psilocybe cubensis, the goal is to have a collection of mushrooms that are strutting golden caps and white stems. As the cap morphs from convex to umbonate, the mushroom begins to get paler and paler. Moreover, if the spores are released, you run the risk of besmirching your shrooms with a dark black and oil residue.
Read: How to Store Shrooms
Mushrooms harvested late will still retain the active principle (i.e. the psilocybin that bestows the psychedelic experience upon us). However, Potter cautions that magic mushrooms harvested at an earlier age before the cap turns umbonate may contain a bit more active principal. There’s no solid evidence for this claim, but it’s something that should be considered by those looking for the most potent experience.
All in all, the primary issue to be concerned about is the cosmetic appeal of a paler mushroom that is marked with released spores.
“It’s all about trying to achieve what would be the optimum situation,” Potter says. “It’s not as if mushrooms harvested late are useless or don’t contain active principal, that’s not really the issue. It’s just more of a cosmetic thing.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for support. If you’re looking for peer support during or after a psychedelic experience, contact Fireside Project by calling or texting 6-2FIRESIDE.
—This article is published in collaboration with DoubleBlind Magazine.
Tyler Koslow is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience in cannabis, music, and general tech. Outside of DoubleBlind, you can find his words in High Times, Entrepreneur, Merry Jane, and Weedmaps News, where he was formerly Associate Editor. A self-proclaimed explorer and experimenter, the work of psychedelic pioneers like Terrance McKenna and Stanislav Grof—as well as the historical use of plant-based psychedelics by various cultures—has played a formative role in his creative work over the past decade. When he’s not tapping away at his keyboard, you can find him stuck in a three-hour synth loop, exploring New York City via bicycle, or taking in the sights on a leisurely hike. You can follow his work on Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.