I started out as a mycophobe, picking mushrooms off pizza and turning up my nose at cream of mushroom soup. But once I started growing my own mushrooms, I discovered a wide world of delicious flavors. I learned that mushrooms can be nearly as easy to grow as lettuce and that the fungi are one of the healthiest foods. Just three years into growing mushrooms, I've become a mushroom-pusher, and this post is part of that campaign.
What's the easiest way to start growing your own mushrooms?
Steer clear of the kits you'll see in glossy seed catalogs — you won't get many mushrooms for your money and soon the kit will be played out and useless.
Instead, we recommend that first-time mushroom growers buy plug oyster mushroom spawn and pound the plugs into freshly cut logs.
Oyster mushrooms are the easiest mushrooms to grow, can live in "weed" trees like box-elder and tulip poplar, provide twice the protein of shiitakes, and taste better, too. You can buy plug spawn from Field and Forest Products, Fungi Perfecti, or Mushroom Mountain. The last is my favorite supplier, specializing in strains well suited to the southeast.
How do I keep my mushrooms happy?
Fungi like damp, shady spots and need periods of heavy moisture to tempt them to fruit. After inoculating your oyster mushroom logs, you will need to let the logs sit in the shade for about six months while the spawn (the vegetative stage of the mushroom) colonizes the entire log.
That fall, you're ready to tell your mushrooms to fruit, either by soaking them for twelve hours in a pool of water or by turning your logs into mushroom rafts and totems. Most people haven't heard of mushroom rafts and totems, but these methods require less work on your end while providing nearly as many mushrooms as the traditional soaking method, so they would be my recommendation for backyard mushroom keepers.
Can I expand my mushroom garden?
One of the reasons I recommend oyster mushrooms for first-time growers is this species is easy to propagate at home with no specialized supplies.
- Simply cut the stem butts (base of the stalk) off the mushrooms and set the butts aside. (Eat the rest of the mushroom, of course!)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, pour the water over medium-size pieces of corrugated cardboard, and let the cardboard soak for an hour.
- Peel the flat outer layers off the cardboard, revealing the corrugated core.
- Crumple up half of the flat outer layers and place them in the bottom of a clean flower pot, then create a lasagna of the corrugated center layers sandwiching the mushroom stem butts.
- Top the propagation chamber off with several more of the flat outer layers of the cardboard and set the flower pot under your kitchen sink.
- Every few days, pour a little water on the pot to keep the cardboard damp. Soon, you'll see white spawn running across the cardboard — this is the same stuff you bought to put in your logs. You're ready to inoculate more logs and keep the cycle spinning!