If you are serious about reducing your global carbon footprint and gaining more control over where your food comes from, then cultivating your own mushrooms should become a priority. Rich in flavor and easy to utilize in a wide variety of recipes, homegrown mushrooms add a robust, earthy taste to any dish, and growing them yourself will cost you less than purchasing them at the store.
As an edible fungi, mushrooms are saprophytes (organisms that extract nutrients from decomposing plant and animal material) that come from the Agaricus family. There are an estimated 140,000 species of mushrooms in the world, although scientists have managed to comprehensively study less than 10% of these. Mushrooms vary considerably in color, shape, texture, and toxicity, but there are only a few varieties that make up the majority of mushrooms in the human diet.
Surprising to many people, mushrooms are easy to grow in just about any environment, whether you have a 20 acre farm or a balcony in the city. Fruiting logs take up little space and require minimal effort to maintain, and some mushroom varieties can even be grown indoors! Once you have a little familiarity with some basic cultivation techniques, you will be amazed how dead easy growing mushrooms really is.
Benefits of eating mushrooms
There is no food quite like the mushroom. The whole-body benefits that they provide will help you get relief from high cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes. Because they are almost 90% water, mushrooms are low in calories yet full of proteins, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antibiotics and antioxidants that can aid in weight loss and strengthen your immune system. Whether you marinate them as a meat substitute or use them to accessorize your Asian stir fry, mushrooms are the perfect addition to any meal.
Easy types to grow
If you are a mushroom fan and believer in their benefits, it might be time for you to start delving into the process of growing your own. There are plenty of delicious mushroom varieties that are easy for a beginner to grow. Hopefully these three mushroom varieties will pique your interest and start you on the fascinating journey of growing your own edible fungi.
White Cap mushrooms (A. hortensis)
Cultivated White Cap mushrooms are a close cousin of a wild strain you might find growing in “fairy circles” in your yard during hot dry summers. With a pleasantly spicy smell and a mildly nutty flavor, white cap mushrooms are delectable. In fact, they are the most popular cultivated variety in the United States!
You can grow your own white cap mushrooms either indoors or outside by following these simple instructions.
- Growing outdoors: It is best to sow white caps in early spring. Choose a moist, healthy patch of lawn with plenty of decayed organic material. Make sure that no chemicals have been sprayed there, as that will prevent growth. Right around compost heaps are usually good sites. Lift up a patch of turf and scatter spores (which can be bought from shops online) directly onto the soil. You can add a layer of compost on top if you wish. Next, roll the turf back on top and keep the area moist for several months. If all goes well, delicious white caps should start sprouting out by the end of the summer!
- Growing indoors: The benefit of growing mushrooms indoors is that you can control the environment and better prevent contamination from wild mushroom spores. A moist, dark place is usually best, so consider using an abandoned shed or similar outbuilding. At least 45 lbs of robust, worm-free compost is essential (horse manure works well). Scatter the spawn along the surface and mix it in the top two to three inches of compost. Cover the surface with damp newspaper and keep it well moistened until it becomes covered in white fungal threads after a few weeks. Remove the paper and keep the plot moist for several months until your mushrooms sprout out.
For more information about growing white button mushrooms, check out this link.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
A popular Asian mushroom variety, Shiitake mushrooms are easy to grow and have a distinctively meaty texture when sauteed or baked. Shiitakes do very well at farmer’s markets and natural food stores because they dry easily and rehydrate to full flavor when cooked. Whether you want to grow shiitakes for a small business or your own eating pleasure, they are the perfect mushroom for the first time grower that wants to use mushroom logs.
Shiitake spawn needs to be grown on hardwood logs that are kept moist by being well shaded and protected from wind. Oak wood works best, and mushroom logs should be cut down in later winter to allow them to set for two weeks before being inoculated in the early spring. Logs should be between 3-8 inches in diameter and no longer than 3-4 feet. Be sure to choose logs with intact bark, because gaps create openings for wild spores to get in and contaminate your crop.
To inoculate your logs, you will need a high speed drill to drill holes that are 5/16 inches in diameter, one inch deep, and spaced six inches apart. Fill these holes with a mix of sawdust and shiitake spores (can be bought from any online mushroom shop) and quickly seal the mixture by covering the top with melted cheese wax.
After being inoculated, shiitake logs need between six months and a year for the spores to grow throughout the log into a thread-like network, which is called the “spawn run”. During this time, the logs will need to be stacked loosely in order to get good airflow while being protected from the elements. Aim for maintaining your logs at 35-45 percent moisture content. It’s also important to keep the logs directly off the ground to prevent contamination from wild fungi strains.
When the spawn run is completed, the fruiting bodies (edible mushrooms) will start to pop up every few days. You can harvest them when the caps are almost fully open. Remember to check your logs often during this time because mushrooms can quickly go from almost ready to overripe in hot conditions.
Once harvested, shiitakes can be stored in well ventilated containers for many months. Don’t harvest mushrooms from your logs for the next few weeks because the mycelium in the logs will need to rest for 2-3 months in order to regain enough energy to prepare for the next fruiting. When well taken care of, shiitake logs can fruit for 2-8 years.
For detailed instructions and pictures of the steps for inoculating shiitakes, you can check out this link.
Coffee ground mushrooms
Yes, your old coffee grounds can be useful for something! With only a little effort, Pearl Oyster mushrooms (P. ostreatus) can be grown in a suitable plastic container filled with used grounds.
Oyster mushroom spawn can be bought online and then mixed in a two gallon bucket filled with coffee grounds. (Not a coffee drinker? Ask your local coffee shop for some of theirs!) Because the grounds have already been steamed, there is no need for you to sterilize them. Add the spores to the bucket and moisten them with a spray bottle. Next, mix the spores into the top inch of coffee grounds and pat them down.
After the spores and grounds have been mixed together, cover the bucket with plastic wrap and punch a half-dozen holes into the wrap. It’s also a good idea to drill holes in the bucket a few inches above the coffee grounds so that the CO2 that forms during the growing stage has somewhere to escape. Place the bucket in a warm, dark place and moisten it twice a day with a spray bottle. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to watch as food grows from a product that normally ends up in the landfill!
Confused how it can be this easy? You’d better check out this link.
Easy recipes to incorporate home grown mushrooms
Growing your mushrooms is only half the fun; the best part of all is getting to eat your results! Because mushrooms contain such a large percentage of water, they dry easily and can be stored for months. To cook with them, they can be simply re-hydrated with a few minutes of steaming.
Homegrown mushrooms are a great addition to pasta sauces and stir fries. You can get creative by breading them and deep frying them in oil, or using them in their dried form as a homemade pizza topping. The sky’s the limit when it comes to mushroom experimentation, but if you need a little inspiration be sure to check out these recipes:
- Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms
- Gourmet Mushroom Risotto
- Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms
- Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms
Whether you plan to start a mushroom business venture or simply want to play around with growing fungi, cultivating mushrooms is a rewarding hobby. Playing with fungi will teach you about the science of decomposition while also keeping you healthy and more reliant on sustainable foods. Try growing any of these three mushroom varieties and you will be amazed just how simple and fun the process can be.