Mushrooms are my favorite___to cook with. How would you fill in that blank? I always say vegetable, (mushrooms really are my favorite, hence why I wanted to know how to grow mushroom in the first place). But I am so wrong when I say that. They are not plants and therefore are not vegetables. They are their whole own category of life and are actually more closely related to humans than plants!
One factor that demonstrates this is that they are not photosynthetic; they must obtain their food from pre-existing material, just like us. It was a pretty amazing revelation for me when I really stopped and thought about how I was eating a completely unique lifeform. It’s a hard habit to break though, not calling them a vegetable. And instead saying they are my favorite life-form to cook with. Maybe one day!
What are mushrooms?
First a little background information to understand this beautiful life form a little better.
A mushroom is just one part of one class of fungi, and what you see above ground is far from the whole organism. This cap-and-stem structure that we know so well is the reproductive structure, the fruiting body of a fungi. Just like a tomato plant produces tomatoes as its fruit in order to disperse seeds, the agaricomycotina class of fungi produces mushrooms as its fruit in order to disperse spores (the equivalent of a seed).
Most of the story for a fungus happens underground where a whole network of thread-like mycelium is slowly making its way through the soil searching for (and consuming) nutrients. When the right conditions line up, the mycelium produces this fruiting body which in turn produces a ton (usually millions, sometimes even billions) of spores. The wind and animals disperse the spores, start new mycelium. Fungi are the drivers of so much of what happens in nature, breaking down material, helping plants with nutrient uptake. The mushroom is how this one class of fungi regenerate, how they continue living.
Mushrooms are not one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of growing your own food. While it can be a little tricky, there are many reasons to try it out. The first is that trying new things is fun, and the second is that they’re delicious. On top of that, it provides variety to gardening, as they need different conditions (you won’t have to worry about them getting enough sun) than other things you may grow. Mushrooms also provide a great variety of nutrition that differs from plants. So, put your mushroom caps on, and have some fun-gi!
How to grow mushrooms?
Mushrooms are easier to grow than plants in some ways, and a little trickier in others. With urban gardening, the lack of sunlight is often a problem. For mushrooms, the hardest parts are figuring out the right substrate from which they will grow, as well as providing consistent conditions. They require an even, warm, temperature as well as quite a bit of moisture once they have spawned (once the spores are on a substrate). Somewhere like a garden shed or basement could work, or even under a sink depending on the temperature of your house.
As mushrooms cannot create food from light (the miracle of plants being able to do this never ceases to amaze me!), the substrate in which they grow must provide them with the right mix of nutrients. These include sugar, starch, lignin, fats, protein, and nitrogen. There are multiple substrates that have been used for successful growth, and they range from simple to complex.
Some mushrooms grow better on a certain substrate, and the ideal conditions for every mushroom will be different. You can purchase spores from one of many companies that produce them. Pick a reputable company with a short shipping time to get the spores at their freshest.
Other basics include keeping a clean environment, so the growing mushrooms don’t get contaminated, maintaining a high moisture level (but no standing water), and maintaining some air flow. The humidity can be kept high by routinely spraying the substrate with water.
Substrate Options: The simplest option is to buy a growing kit which will provide you with the substrate and spores as well as instruct you on exactly what to do. This can be a great way to get a hang of the process before coming up with your own design.
When it comes to how to grow your mushrooms, we will be talking you through 3 main methods.
METHOD 1: Compost
This is the most common substrate for home-growing is compost. I will go into some detail here about the process of growing.
Step 1: Getting the compost
The compost composition will vary with each type of mushroom. If you are a confident compost maker, try using your own and see what happens! If you don’t want to get into making your own, just buy a good quality compost from the store. One with horse manure is a safe bet for mushrooms.
Step 2: Spawning
Fill a plastic tray with about 10 cm of this compost, and then distribute the spores on top. Mix it well and cover with a damp newspaper (but make sure a little air can still get in). Within 2-3 weeks, you should see the mycelium starting to grow. This will look like a bunch of white threads covering the surface. The temperature for these first weeks needs to be kept around 23°C/73°F.
Step 3: Casing
Once the surface is covered with the mycelium, remove the newspaper, wet well and then cover with another layer of a different material, which is called the casing. This is the layer on which the actual fruit bodies will grow.
The casing layer does not need to contain nutrients, as the fruiting body is produced entirely from the mycelium which is getting nutrients from the first compost layer. Look for a clay-loam soil or mix soil and sawdust (this is a step that will vary depending on species of mushroom). At this point, keep the temperature at 23°C for the first five days, and then it is best if it can be lowered a little bit each day until the initial mushrooms pop up.
Step 4: Harvesting
Mushrooms will be large enough to harvest after about three weeks, and you will be able to keep harvesting them for up to 60 days depending on the species.
They mature in cycles, so about once a week there will be mature ones ready for the picking (breaking off. If possible at this stage the temperature should be lowered by about 10°C.
METHOD 2: On a log
One of the more traditional methods is growing them on a good old-fashioned log. This is the preferred method for oyster and shitake mushrooms, although they will do fine with alternative methods.
You can order dowels, which are corks implanted with mushroom spores that you stick in the log. The problems here are that you need a freshly cut log and will need to drill holes in the log in which to place the dowels-just a decent amount of effort. But if you have the time and space it could be a fun project. The other possible drawback for this method is that it usually takes about a year to get results.
METHOD 2: Coffee grounds
I am excited to try this method, which works best with oyster mushrooms, but will work with others as well. The grounds provide all of the nutrients that mushrooms need to grow and apparently produces great results! I have read that coffee shops are usually happy to give you their used coffee grounds. This would have to be the way to go about it because you need enough to fill a good-sized bucket (even those of us who drink coffee like our lives depend on it don’t produce that many grounds!).
It is also important that you inoculate the grounds with the spores in the same 24 hours that the coffee has been brewed in order to give the mycelium the freshest conditions in which to begin growing.
Instead of a tray, it works best to fill a bucket 2/3 of the way up with the grounds (a 2-gallon bucket is a good size to start), and either cut or drill, depending on the bucket material, four holes 10-15 mm in diameter half way down the bucket.
The mushrooms will end up growing out of these holes. In a separate bowl, mix the spores into the grounds and then pour the contents into the bucket. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and then sit back and let them grow!
For guidelines on conditions, follow the steps outlined in the compost method.
These are outlines of popular methods about how to gro mushrooms yourself. But as mentioned earlier in the article, each species of mushroom has preferred conditions and substrates. Therefore, it is a good idea to research the best methods for the type of mushroom you are wanting to grow. Some of the easiest and most popular species for home growing are button mushrooms, which includes the portabella, shitake, oyster, and chanterelle.
What mushrooms do for you
Mushrooms are high in protein and fiber, which are not always easy to come by in plants. They also contain substantial amounts of potassium, copper and vitamin B, which has a wide range of benefits including improving eyesight and neurological functions as well as converting food into energy.
They also contain a strong antioxidant called selenium which protects cells and tissues and boosts the immune system. Button mushrooms in particular contain a large amount of vitamin D, of which a large number of humans are deficient. This is especially true in the winter, when the daylight decreases.
Unlike humans, decrease in daylight doesn’t affect mushrooms, making winter the perfect time to try growing some for yourself. Just like anything else, they need some patience and tender loving care, but with some practice they could become a great addition to the food that we produce ourselves.
Along with being a good winter project, mushrooms are also delicious in winter-y meals like soups, casseroles, and stir-fries. Just remember, once they are successfully growing, try not to proclaim that they are your biggest vegetable success story: I know if I were a mushroom I would take pride in being my very own lifeform!
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