Growing Mushrooms Spawns Possibilities For Gardens And Menus
Cultivating mushrooms for food and beauty may appear to be the threshold of an esoteric and even intimidating mycological universe. But it's a more accessible pursuit than some might assume, largely because these fungi can grow under many different conditions.
Lindsey Bender, a mycologist at the Peshtigo-based mushroom-cultivation company Field and Forest Products, delved into many of the options that work for Wisconsinites in a Feb. 12, 2016 presentation at the Wisconsin Garden Expo in Madison. Her talk was recorded for Wisconsin Public Television's University Place.
People can cultivate mushrooms outdoors spring through fall, and those who have the space to set up indoor fungus farms can even go year-round. With different varieties of mushrooms — and different strains within those varieties — come a host of different flavors and textures. What makes fungiculture difficult, though is that the preparation process, moisture and temperature requirements, and timing of cultivation and harvesting will vary with the type of mushroom being cultivated.
Bender discussed several varieties of mushrooms, starting with those easiest to cultivate and advancing to increasingly difficult options. She also talked about some of the products and methods that can help new mushroom growers get started, and described several the special growing projects Field and Forest Products has conducted. Whether someone is looking for a few mushrooms to contrast with plants in an existing garden, or is prepared to invest in a more elaborate setup, Bender explained, there's a variety that will grow.
- Mushrooms are diverse in the kinds of conditions in which they can grow. Some thrive best in warm weather, others in cold weather. These characteristics vary across different types of mushrooms, but also across the distinct strains within those types.
- Mushrooms can grow on many different "substrates," including logs, sawdust blocks, straw, compost heaps and wood chips. The fungi grow on these surfaces, but also use them for food. Some varieties need contact with actual soil as well, but others do not. In some cases, different kinds of substrates can be layered together, like straw and wood chips.
- Logs can be used to grow multiple types of mushrooms, the best known being shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (the Pleurotus genus) varieties. These logs need to be from healthy, living trees.
- Some varieties, like Almond Agaricus (Agaricus subrufescens), are best grown in a greenhouse.
- Using straw beds as a substrate seems to work best in the fall.
- Growing mushrooms on sawdust blocks is one indoor, four-season method of mushroom cultivation, but it can be particularly difficult to get started.
- Many home mushroom growers start by purchasing a pre-made "spawn," usually a wood or sawdust product mixed with fungal colonies.
- The process of getting fungus ready to grow in a given substrate is called "inoculation," which can be done during the mushroom’s dormant stage.
- Winecaps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) are among the easiest mushrooms to grow. They are generally cultivated outdoors, in straw or wood-chip beds.
- Lesser-known mushroom varieties include nameko (Pholiota microspora), olive oysterling (Panellus serotinus), lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus), comb tooth (Hericium coralloide) and maitake (Grifola frondosa).The latter variety, also known as "hen of the wood," is found in the wild in Wisconsin, but can also be cultivated.
- Whatever the growing method, most mushrooms tend to need shade, whether from a forest canopy or from the leaves of plants in a garden. But others, like oyster mushrooms, require a lot of light.
- Different mushrooms need different amounts of time to incubate and eventually sprout fruit. Some, like cold-weather shiitakes, need to incubate for up to a year.
- Mushrooms should be harvested when they're young, because they longer they're exposed, the more problems will arise with insects.
- On why people grow mushrooms: "Not only is there this wonderful beauty and diversity, but there are also health benefits, just the joy of being outside and growing something, all sorts of different things."
- On the unusual flavors of Almond Agaricus: "It has the same texture of white button, but this wonderful aroma of almond, and the flavor is incredible — it reminds you a lot of almond extract — so there's all sorts of possibilities in terms of cooking with this one."
- On thinking ahead to future cultivation: "If you're cleaning up those mushrooms by cutting off the stumps, why don't you throw those back into the compost pile and use that material for next year's crop?"
- On the trade-offs of indoor cultivation: "There are a wide variety of mushrooms that can be grown this way...however, mushrooms require high humidity and also release quite a bit of spores, so bear that in mind if you're considering indoor cultivation as a practice. The benefit, though, is pretty solid coverage throughout the growing season."