I don’t spend a lot of time on online mushroom forums but when we first started growing commercially, almost 10 years ago, I used to spend a lot of time online, seeking out the expertise of experienced growers. I pretty quickly came to realize the same thing that most of you probably have realized by now: online advice is, at best, extremely hit-or-miss.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- New growers on forums far outnumber experienced growers, and many of those new growers sincerely want to contribute, despite having very little experience.
- There is no check system on comments, beyond the community rules that generally deal with appropriate language, staying on topic, and bullying, so bad advice is just as visible as good advice.
- Social media inherently involves a perverse reward system, where users are “scored” by likes and engagements, and the most effective way to increase that score is to get lots of attention by being highly engaged and highly controversial. This can lead to a situation where people gain social cred by simply being loud and obnoxious, while people who are more measured and often more knowledgeable just don’t get attention.
Now, I’m not going to advise you to stay off of the forums, but I do advise being smart about using them, just as you should be smart about any information that you receive online. You should be skeptical and thoughtful, think critically about what you are reading, who wrote it, and what their motivations may be.
It’s pretty hard to assess credibility and motivation on a forum though, where most people are just identified by a user name and maybe something like a “top contributor” badge for saying a lot of things, regardless of how helpful or accurate those things are.
Beyond looking at the credibility and motivations of the source of information, it’s good to be able to see what science has to say.. I definitely recommend having a good basic how-to book on growing, and my recommendation for new growers is The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms by Stephen Russell. But for staying up to date and just looking up what science has to say on different topics, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with Google Scholar, which is basically Google search for published science.
Let’s say you are on a forum where somebody is asking what sort of light they need to provide for the oyster mushrooms in their indoor fruiting chamber. You’ve got one person saying to get a full-spectrum grow light from a garden supply center, you’ve got another person recommending old-school incandescent lights, and another advocating for cool-color LED lighting. And they all recommend different time cycles for the lighting. There are probably even a few advocating for no light at all. A really good approach on this sort of thing is to head over to Google Scholar, athttps://scholar.google.com, and type in a search. Maybe “oyster mushroom light requirements.” You will get a list of published studies. Some of them will just be an abstract, basically a summary of the study, with the full paper hidden behind a paywall, but some will allow you to download the full study.
These studies are different from online opinions because they are done using scientific rigor to isolate the effect of the variable being studied, and utilize a control group as a comparison. In the future I’m going to go into how to critically read a scientific paper and extract useful information out of it, but for now I’ll leave it here. There’s a whole world of science available to you, and it can be a lot of fun to dig into it. Poke around and see what’s out there, and start seeing how it agrees or disagrees with the opinions you’re getting on forums. And check back in over the next few weeks as we start digging into getting more out of the available science.