Mushrooms have somehow maintained a mystique despite the fact that we are very accustomed to eating them. Buttons, portabellas, and cremini are commonplace in the modern big box supermarket. More and more, wild and exotic mushrooms are making it onto menus and into market stalls. We no longer struggle to pronounce shiitake and chanterelle, and we have an eye out for choice flavors from morels and oyster mushrooms.
Growing mushrooms at home has also become imaginable in the last few years. There are do-it-yourself kits available online, made to grow fungi in closets or under beds. There are mushroom plugs to inoculate logs with spores so that soon they periodically fruit and provide pounds of delicious mushrooms. But, truth be known, mushroom kits, while fun, aren’t cost-efficient, and inoculating mushroom logs involves power tools, waxes and acquiring fresh hardwood logs.
There is an easier way to grow gourmet mushrooms at home. They can be grown right in the garden, and they can produce in abundance. Have you heard of a mushroom bed?
A Special Kind of Mushroom
Not all mushrooms work the same. Some, such as buttons and portabellas, feed off of organic matter in compost-y soils. Generally, these are the ones grown in kits, which include sterilized compost material. Others, like shiitake and maitake, prefer more substantial diets of wood, which is why they can be cultivated on logs. Still others, like morels and chanterelles, have symbiotic relationships with living trees, trading off nutrients with roots to survive.
To make a mushroom bed, then, it’s important to pick a particular type of mushroom that likes to live on the medium from which we will be constructing the bed: hardwood mulch. Luckily, there are some aggressive, choice edibles that love to grow on mulch, and for our purposes today, those include oyster mushrooms and wine cap mushrooms. These mushrooms will happily establish themselves in mulch piles and produce delicious mushrooms for years.
The Recipe for Mushroom Lasagna
To anyone who has made no-dig, lasagna gardens, this recipe will be familiar, and for those who haven’t, fear not as it’s no great achievement. Basically, the ingredients we need to compile is some old cardboard boxes (avoid glossy finishes), some preferably fresh hardwood mulch (see tree-trimming services), some mushrooms spawn (order it online) and some water.
To create the lasagna, we begin with boxes (or several layers of newspaper) splayed out on the ground. This can be in the paths between garden beds, if you like mulched pathways, or it can be within the actual garden beds. It also works great beneath trees. Once the boxes are in, wet them down and cover them with a good, two-inch layer of mulch (straw will also work for oyster mushrooms). Then, sprinkle some spawn over the wood chips. Put on another layer of mulch, another sprinkle, and repeat the process as if layering lasagna.
Once the bed is put together, wet it down thoroughly every day for a couple of weeks. It will cook itself into a mushroom-producing machine.
A Few Details for Big Time Production
Without a doubt, these mushrooms enjoy a shady perch upon which to grow. While most of us associate shade with trees, that’s not the only option. Shrubs, hedges, and vegetables can all provide adequate shade for wine caps and oysters to thrive. Both of these mushrooms are aggressive, i.e. they want to establish themselves and grow, so if we set up a good situation, they should find the rest of the way themselves.
Part of what shade does is maintain an adequate moisture level. Mushrooms, in general, aren’t really into dryness, so that’s a good maxim to keep in mind. Make sure those beds have moisture. If there is an unusual drought going, it’s worthwhile to add some water to the mix. Save the water from rinsing vegetables or soaking beans and water the mushroom bed.
Lastly, like all living things, mushrooms need to it. The fantastic thing about an established mushroom bed, one where the mycelium has run rampant, is that we can keep it going by simply adding some new mulch every year or two. There is no need to continually buy mushroom spawn because the mushrooms will seed themselves. They just need a medium upon which to grow. Fresh hardwood mulch is usually available for free from tree services.
Time to Make Mushrooms
The best time to get a mushroom bed started is in early spring. Usually within a few months, sometimes by summer, the beds will begin to provide some food. Then, it’s game on. This is big time perennial food production—organic mushrooms!—that could really add some wow to the dinner table.
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