I’m not going to lie. Mushrooms are one of my favorite foods, right up there with beef jerky and French’s onion dip. After all, stuffed mushroom caps can’t be beat for a quick, easy, and healthy snack. Then after I read that shitakes could fight against cancer, I decided to be more proactive in eating them in everything. The only trouble is that shitakes flatten out to nothingness when baked. Although they are not able to cure cancer, the UK Center for Cancer Research makes a salient point when they state that “button mushrooms…are very good for you as food because they contain all the essential amino acids and are an excellent source of vitamins.” So, they are still much better for us than a moderate amount of chips and dip or beef jerky. But the less said about health food, the better.
Mushroom Growing Methods
There are a ton of different ways to growing mushrooms at home and Field & Forest runs a great informative website on the subject. They also have an awesome chart that shows new growers from various regions what kinds of mushrooms to plant at different times of the year, on what mediums, and how difficult it is. Unfortunately, their prices are out of my budget and I don’t really need that much spawn for a simple experiment, so I went elsewhere for supplies.
The easiest and most expensive way to grow mushrooms at home is to buy a kit. However, doing so can easily run $25 or more dollars before shipping costs are included and those can easily add another $10 bucks or so. Needless to say, we the poor people of the world are not big fans of pricey options. Those that have do money might want to look into getting a kit because all you have to do spray them occasionally with water and mushrooms appear almost instantly, at least according to the advertisements. You also don’t have to go hunting for extra supplies either, which can be aggravating.
Another popular method, especially for gardeners interested growing shitakes, is to drill holes into logs cut from hardwood trees and place plugs or dowel rods that have been embedded with mushrooms spores in them into the holes. The holes are then sealed with wax. The dowel rods and plugs can run anywhere from $15 upwards. Kits for this procedure are even more expensive but they don’t come with the necessary drill bits. Even if you have all the supplies and aren’t afraid of injuring yourself in the process, this is also a time consuming method. It can take up to 9 months for the trees to produce mushrooms. I don’t know about you guys but I tend to be on the impatient side, so I again searched out another way.
I was looking for a system that required a minimum of supplies and would produce mushrooms that were suitable for my favorite recipes. At first I was interested in oyster mushrooms, because they are fast growing and pretty adaptable in terms of growth. Oyster mushrooms can even be grown on rolls of unused toilet paper (because otherwise you really wouldn’t want to eat them, right?) or old books. They are also fairly colorful. Oyster mushrooms come in steel grey, golden yellow, light blue and electric pink shades. The pink ones reportedly taste like shrimp, but they are native to the tropics and need warm weather to survive. Since I didn’t know how my roommates would feel about me growing fungi in our shared apartment and I wanted something that could be used in stuffed mushrooms anyway, I put that project on hold.
Eventually, I determined that the easiest way to grow mushrooms would be to inoculate wood chips with grain spawn and put the mix into a clean container. You can do this directly in the garden as well. However, I couldn’t find any wood chips that weren’t the scary chemically treated, bright red ones from the big box gardening centers in my hometown. Unable to find the supplies I needed, I had to move to a variety that worked on what I could find, which was straw. Enter the wine caps. They’re described on the Field & Forrest website as being a “choice edible” and they “are great for braising, sautéing or grilling.” They also have edible steams if eaten young enough. Sounds like a winner right? I thought so too.
Necessary Supplies for Mushroom Growing
*Grain spawn – I purchased mine from Forest Organics on Etsy for about $12. They also offered free shipping and handling, which is another reason I picked them over many different sellers. After all, I’m not rich and affordability is always a major issue.
*Straw – Pine straw is not what you’re looking for, even if it is everywhere. Nor are you looking for hay. I had a devil of a time trying to find regular straw and finally lucked out at the locally owned nursery where I purchased some for $7.
*Clean Plastic Bucket – Everything I have read says to soak the straw for several days before administering the mushroom spawn. You could probably use this same bucket to hold the straw once it’s been inoculated.
*Clear Plastic Wrap – This helps keep the moisture levels high while you’re waiting on the mycelium in the grain spawn to colonize the straw, which in turn is what makes the mushrooms form.
How To Make Mushrooms
1. Soak the straw in water for several days.
2. Drain off the water. Layer the straw and mushroom spawn in a clean container. You can also alternate one inch of straw to a handful of spawn for a total of three inches in depth if you’re putting it directly into the garden bed.
3. In either case, wrap the entire thing with plastic for several weeks and keep moist.
4. Wait about a month for mushrooms to appear. Wine caps do best in a partially shaded environment and are said to handle sunny conditions better than most mushrooms, making them ideal for my own yard. Although this variety can get huge, they reportedly taste better when they are smaller.
5. Make sure the mushrooms are 100% definitely the ones you planted before adding them to meals.