A Fungus Among Us

by Mary Stickley-Godinez

I have a new garden hobby. I love mushrooms. Those “gourmet” varieties, Oyster and Shiitake, are especially fun to cook with. It’s amazing how one of these can uplift a simple omelet into a culinary work of art. But having seen the cost of these in the grocery store, I decided to try my hand at growing my own.

My first version was a predesigned kit that was an unassuming plastic bag stuffed with straw. A set of instructions said I was to poke holes in the bag, soak it for several hours in a bucket of warm water, and then set it in a humid location loosely covered with another bag which they provided. Surprisingly, I followed the instructions exactly and like magic, several weeks later each hole was just stuffed with sprouting mushrooms. And I was hooked.

I have gotten several versions of these premade kits and they were all easy, almost stupid proof, and provided quite a number of tasty mushrooms. The flavor was definitely much better than what I was buying from the store. And when I figured out the cost of the kit, it was also far less expensive as long as I harvested them according to the directions. I do recommend that any mushroom hobbyist start with a kit so they are familiar with the appearance and flavor of a particular mushroom before trying to farm them on your own.

All mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus of some type. They produce spores for the fungus to reproduce. Thus, the mushroom you see is but a small part of the overall organism. These fungi are all designed to decompose a particular type of organic material. Nor do they transfer to a different type of composting medium. So they may grow on straw, manure, wood chips, wood logs, and there are several wild types which grow on we don’t know what.

In general, a fungus needs to have a moist or humid environment, so your medium needs to stay moist or humid. This can be a damp spot in the shade or a sprinkler set to go off every so often. I also found the undersides of the shelves in my greenhouse to be perfect for several types. Even a clear plastic trash bag might work — as in that first kit I bought.

They also grow in different temperatures. Unless you have a temperature-controlled growing house, you will harvest the various species at specific times of the year and they will go dormant during the rest of the year.

To grow your own, you need to gather the proper growing medium, put it into the proper environment and then inoculate it with the proper spores for the mushroom you want. These can be purchased as plugs or powder from a number of catalogues or on the Internet. After that you keep it moist and wait until the magic happens. I have successfully grown Shiitakes on oak or cherry logs. And I’ve done Chicken of the Woods on hemlock stumps I found in my woods. I’ve also grown Oyster in bags of straw, and Crimini and White Buttons in boxes of composted cow manure.

My biggest problem is what to do with all the mushrooms when they are in full production because when its time, they come on fast. I chop and freeze the extras or dry them in my food dehydrator. Later I will rehydrate them by putting them in a bowl of water and putting them in the fridge a day before I want to use them. Both re-hydrated and frozen are best used cooked, not fresh.

Also, I do want to put out a warning regarding mushrooms. There are many beautiful mushrooms in our yards and gardens, and my love affair with them has caused me to allow them to remain when I see them. But many are not edible and some are quite deadly with no cure after they have been ingested. So do be careful that you know exactly what you are eating. With mushrooms there are few second chances.

Author: Brian

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