We hope you have enjoyed some nice, juicy portobellos off the grill this summer or this mouthwatering dish. If not, get on it before colder days return! If you love mushrooms like me, then you always find a reason to treat yourself to them when you’re out shopping. Are you sitting down? Good, because what I am about to say may be a bit shocking. You can grow your own! There are many different methods to do so, and you can use them to grow a wide variety of gourmet mushrooms. Which method you choose will depend on what living situation you have. I will go through one that you can do inside and one tried and true method for the outdoors. But first, let’s talk a little bit about what mushrooms are.
The mushrooms you buy in the store or that you see above ground are the ‘fruit’ or fruiting bodies of a much larger network underground, on a tree, or in your growing substrate. The actual work to get to that point is conducted by a culture of fungus cells called mycelium. If you consider these cultures one organism, they are considered the largest on the planet. When the culture is strong enough, has the right temperatures, shade and moisture, they produce what you throw in a stir-fry. The ‘fruit’ then drop their ‘seeds’ or spores to grow another culture elsewhere. Each variety has its own set of conditions and its own favorite lignin rich foods (substrates) such as wood or straw so please keep exploring the world of mycology beyond this article. There are many online resources for the aspiring mycologist such as guides, helpful tips, and all the tools you need to get the job done.
The most important tip I can give you is to make sure that all the materials you use are sterilized. When you are trying to establish a culture, it is very weak at the beginning and needs a leg up against the other fungus amungus.
Indoor Technique: Spawn Bags & Jars
You can find the mushroom variety you would like, which sterile substrate blend is right for it, and pick between already cultured substrate ‘plugs’ or some spores to get your culture going online. If you are lucky, then you could go to your local mushroom farm or plant nursery. If you are buying the sterile substrate blend, it typically comes in one of two types of containers. The first is a specialized spawn bag that allows the exchange of gases, but not of other microorganisms through it. The second is a sterilized glass jar that breathes through holes in the top. Spawn bags work well with plugs or spores you can inject. Spores are best for the glass jar method. You can make your own sterile substrate containers easily using a pressure cooker.
Once you introduce your culture to the substrate, depending on the variety you are growing, you want to keep them moist and in a very dark place while the culture colonizes the bag. This process takes weeks to months. Once the culture has taken over the substrate completely it is strong enough to enter the fruiting phase. Again, depending on the variety, you will start introducing more moisture, air, heat and light into the equation to encourage your mushrooms to grow. A great way to do this on a small scale is by using a terrarium. Think of this process as the transition between winter and spring. Check out a great guide to get started here.
Outdoor Technique: Logs & Plugs
Mushrooms thrive in the forest, so why not bring the forest to your mushrooms? By selecting particular trees in your woods, depending on which variety of mushroom you would like to grow, you can turn its fresh cut logs into a heavy producer for years. You can also work out a tasty deal with a local landscaping company! Using fresh cut logs is extremely important because it will not be taken by other fungal cultures yet. The best way to do this is by drilling thick holes into your log and putting already colonized ‘plugs’ in to fill them before sealing the hole with wax. Do this during the late winter or early spring, and keep the logs off the ground. Place the logs in a well shaded area and make sure they are nice and moist. Check out a great guide to this process here.
Image source: karen_neoh/ Flickr