|Pioppino buttons - notice the different colors at this stage.|
I have been growing mushrooms at home for many years now and I have tried a lot of different mushrooms. Pearl oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are the easiest, aggressively growing on just about anything that is wood or was once made of wood (no conifers, though), and producing regular flushes. Elm oysters (Hypsizygus ulmarius) are my favorite for my experiments. They look and taste about the same as the pearl oysters, but get along much better with my plants than the pearl oysters. The pearl oysters have killed every plant I have ever tried to put in a pot with them. Cinnamon cap mushrooms, also known as brick tops (Hypholoma sublateritium) narrowly edge out pearl oysters as the most productive mushrooms. I quit growing them because I don’t really like the flavor, though they did make the best cream of mushroom soup I have ever had.
But my favorite, flavor wise, has got to be pioppino mushrooms, also known as black poplar mushrooms (Agrocybe aegerita). Ultimately, despite all their other great uses, I grow mushrooms as food, and there is something to be said for growing the best. After all, that’s the primary motivator for gardeners everywhere, right? The freshest lettuce. The perfect tomato. The hottest pepper. The tastiest mushroom.
Over the years, pioppino mushrooms have proven themselves to be a difficult mushroom to grow. The books I have recommend that it be grown horizontally on a log. That is sort of a tough sell inside as I grow most of my mushrooms vertically on logs in pots. Pioppino mushrooms are native to the southeastern United States, so I figured they would do well with the outside heat in my northern Arizona home. I tried growing them on a bed of logs in a shady spot on the north side of my house. They failed, though I suspect it was more a lack of humidity. I tried growing them on coffee grounds, which is a great method for both kinds of oyster mushrooms, and they never took hold. I have tried growing them on wood chips and they have proven to be finicky about leaping off into the wood chip matrix.
After about six months or so, when I was reasonably sure the mycelium had moved into the logs, I added a handful of red worms to each pot and added a few plants, a clivia and an amaryllis to one and a calla lily to the other. The worms broke down the woodchips to make soil for the plants. The plants draw the water out of the bottom of the aquariums, which don’t have a drain. Instant ecosystem!
This morning, I got my first mushroom from the other log. It is still small, so I will have to watch it carefully to make sure it is the right kind of mushroom, but early indications are positive. If it has indeed taken off, that means I now have two logs that are growing pioppino mushrooms, an accomplishment that I am particularly proud of.