Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Growing Mushrooms Part 4 - How

So, you’ve decided that you’d like to try to grow a new kind of delicious mushroom and maybe even integrate it into your garden or other project. Where do you start? Well, unless you are a trained mycologist, well versed in the identification and propagation of mushrooms, I strongly recommend you start with a mushroom kit. There are a number of online purveyors who sell them, and they are easy to do. You just follow the provided directions, which basically involves putting a plastic tent (provided) over them and spraying 2-3 times a day until you harvest your mushrooms.

A typical five pound mushroom kit will cost about $25-$30 and yield about 2 pounds of mushrooms. So now you feel adventurous for trying something new, but are feeling a little cheated because you just paid $25 plus shipping for 2 pounds of mushrooms. What can you do? Well, it turns out that that spent mushroom kit is still very much alive. In fact, mushroom mycelium is at its most vigorous right after you harvest the mushrooms. That’s the best time to expand your kit onto some new growing material. For your basic wood-loving mushroom (and most of the mushrooms that are easy to grow in the home grow on wood), there are two basic methods: the tortoise and the hare.

The tortoise method is to grow the mushrooms on a log. The disadvantage of this method is that it can take up to a year for your log to produce its first flush of mushrooms. The advantage is that it really takes very little care and you can typically get 3-4 flushes of mushrooms a year for up to 5 years. I had a log of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) that produced a flush of mushrooms every 2-3 weeks all winter long one year. My daughter actually got tired of mushrooms. With a log, the mushroom has more mass to work with, which means more mushrooms for you for your effort. Also, propagating mushrooms is a tricky process. By using a log, it extends the time between propagation efforts, which means less work.

The hare method is to grow the mushrooms on sawdust or straw. This method will produce a flush of mushrooms in as little as a month or so, with succeeding flushes every couple of weeks. Also, the flushes are typically larger than what you get from the log. The disadvantage of this method is that you only get 3-4 flushes out of your block and you have to create another block. This method isn’t infinitely expandable. If you get contamination in your system, which is easy to do, it gets expanded with the mushroom mycelium and will spoil your block.

My preferred method is actually both. I put a log in a pot, bucket or terrarium and surround it with wood chips and sawdust with the remnants of my mushroom kit mixed in. The mycelium quickly colonizes the wood chips and then moves into the log.

I’ll share specific techniques for making this transfer as successful as possible in a future post.

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