I can’t even believe I’m writing an article about how to grow mushrooms. I’m much more suited to writing an article about how to wipe them off the face of the planet. BUT, since so many others do like them, I’m trying to be magnanimous here.
Mushrooms can be successfully cultivated in cool, shady, and wet garden areas or even in the basement. Soil and light are not needed. But because mushrooms don’t have chlorophyll, they can’t manufacture their own food like other plants. They get their food by breaking down whatever they’re growing on, in the same way that earthworms do.
A mushroom’s growing surface is known as substrate. Appropriate substrates for mushrooms include untreated wood such as logs, sawdust, and woodchips; coffee grounds, newspapers, or cardboard.
To grow mushrooms, you buy the “spawn.” (Spawn. That’s nice. Can I have a 2nd helping, please?) You can get kits that include the substrate (for example, a log). In these cases, you simply apply the spawn to the growing surface and put it in the correct environment (damp, dark, and cool–no more than 68 degrees F). If you buy a kit with a log, the log may have pre-drilled holes and you insert dowel rods that have the spawn on them. (This is just gross, how can people eat this stuff, really.)
If you buy only the spawn, you use it to “inoculate” the appropriate substrate of your own choosing, such as logs, your compost heap, a pile of damp untreated sawdust, whatever. Birch, beech and oak trees are the best logs for growing mushrooms.
I can’t really vouch for these sources, but a quick Google search turned up Fungi Perfecti, Choice Edibles, and Gourmet Mushrooms Inc. (whose kits are certified organic). Fungi Perfecti says that a good way to grow mushrooms outside is to spread a layer of moist substrate such as mulch, sawdust, or compost and sprinkle the spawn on top. Then you add a 2nd layer of 2 to 4 inches of substrate on top.
If you’ve applied the spawn to an appropriate substrate and placed it in the optimum growing conditions, you should begin to see stems and caps in a couple of weeks. Then, you harvest them, make some mushroom stroganoff with herbed pasta, and pray that you didn’t accidentally buy poisonous spawn from the mushroom shipper.
Happy eatin’ !!!!
Photo courtesy of Gourmet Mushrooms Inc.