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Agar is great. But is it right for you?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Maybe you’ve recently developed an interest in growing your own mushrooms. You’ve done a little bit of research online, joined a few Facebook groups, or watched some YouTube videos. And everyone seems to tell you to “Learn agar.”

Learning to use agar can be a wonderful joy. If done correctly, it can introduce people to a new world of fungi, increase yields, produce new strains, create stronger strains, and much more.

But is it right for a beginner?

Here are five things to consider before you "learn agar."

1. Agar start-up costs can be high

If you want to learn agar correctly, you’re going to have to pay up for a sterile work environment. The absolute best way to ensure you’ve got completely sterility is to purchase a laminar flow hood. The cost for this piece can run anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1,000!

This laminar flow hood for agar. This piece cost $600.

The next piece you’re going to need is an autoclave or a pressure cooker. These can cost anywhere between a couple hundred to another $1,000. These machines help ensure all your tools and your agar are 100% sterilized.

Then you’re going to need all the agar equipment:

You probably also will need a mini-fridge! A lot of folk put their inoculated agar plates in the fridge to keep their cultures in long-term storage. A separate fridge from your kitchen is ideal.

Oh, and specialized air filters for your vents wouldn’t hurt too if you’ve got central air.

Yeah, you can do it on the cheap but when it comes to agar the less you pay, the more you risk.

Think about your startup costs before you start using agar!

2. Agar can require a large amount of your time

You’ll have to dedicate a lot of time learning how to put everything together. There are not a whole lot of easy-to-follow guides when it comes to agar. Expect to spend a lot of time reading books, watching videos, asking a lot of questions on internet forums.

Also, expect to make a lot of mistakes. It’s okay. It happens to everyone. It’s part of the process! Just keep in mind that learning agar won’t take days. It’ll take weeks and months to perfect.

Here are couple books that will really help you learn agar:

  1. Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms

  2. The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home

"Practical" does have a lot of different meanings for different folks BUT the Mushroom Cultivator is a great book.

Expect to spend a lot of time learning about agar without actually USING agar.

3. Agar is tedious

Listen, I love working with agar, but it is TEDIOUS. Ask anyone who works in a lab setting and specifically with agar, and they will tell you how cool it is.

But they will also tell you how extremely tedious it can be. They must follow strict protocols to ensure that their work remains sterile. This includes developing and adhering to strict processes and procedures.

If there’s a lapse in protocol, you risk losing your work to contamination.

Also, if you haven't seen the Facebook group Cultivating Mushroom Contaminants, most of the contamination happens on agar!

This is how complicated learning agar is.
Aint no one got time for this!

4. Agar requires dedicated space

Maybe this is where you really should have started: finding a dedicated space. A lot of folk don’t have extra space just lying around their homes. If you do, cool! But if you don’t and you want to learn agar, then you’re going to have to make the space.

The space will essentially be a lab space. It should be separate from the rest of your living quarters and if you’re growing mushrooms, it definitely should be separate from those spaces as well.

5. Agar is not necessary

Lastly, learning agar just isn’t necessary if you want to grow a little bit of mushrooms. For hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people first grew mushrooms using the “Brown Rice Flour tek”. This 2-step strategy says 1) mix spores with brown rice and then 2) fruit the brown rice in a container. It works. It’s not the best but it does work.

More and more people are learning that they use the MiniTub method.

Step 1: Mix spores with sterilized oats

Step 2: Mix oats with soil and

Step 3: Move grow container into sunlight.

The MiniTub method is a little more work than the Brown Rice Flour tek, a lot less costly than learning agar, and still grows a ton of mushrooms.

Mushrooms growing without agar.
Grown using the MiniTub Method: Spores to grain, grain to soil, and then fruiting.


If you have the money, time, patience, dedication, and physical space to learn agar. You should totally go for it! It’s fun!

Agar is so much fun! But it's not necessary to grow mushrooms
Tiny mushrooms growing on agar

But, if you’re just starting out and just want to grow some mushrooms and see the process unfold, you don’t have to learn agar.

Some people will say, agar is an absolute must. But a ton of people have used strategies such as the “brown rice flour tek” and the MiniTub method. Both of these strategies start with spores and work just fine for people who just want to grow a personal supply of mushrooms.

But, if you’re ready to really get serious about learning everything there is to know about growing mushrooms in a lab, have the patience and resources to do so, you should do it.

Otherwise, think about getting a MiniTub. It'll save you time, money, and get you growing quickly!

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