Mushrooms, a delicious and capricious food we see pop up randomly outdoors, love to eat, but are a little worried to forage for, as it’s best to be sure you don’t munch a toxic one. Apart from buying them in a store, or taking a mushroom hunting expedition with an expert, there is another option – grow your own!
You may feel that being such an odd creature the mushroom is something mysterious to grow, but learn a little about what they need and you may have your own delish harvest which, it has been said, tastes way better homegrown, as you get to eat them at their freshest. Not only that, but because you can grow them indoors, you don’t have to have a big garden to enjoy this treat.
Mushrooms are nutritious, low in calories and also hit that umami spot with both their meaty texture and deep flavour, containing about 2 grams of protein in a small serving. They’re rich in potassium and important B vitamins, as well as selenium, a nutrient normally found in meat that veggies and vegans need too. Not only that, they have been found to have fantastic benefits for the immune system.
A LITTLE ABOUT MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms are fungi that have most of their existence under the earth in the form of mycelium, a network of fibres that can penetrate wood and organic matter using powerful enzymes. The mushrooms we harvest are in fact the fruits that pop out into the open to release spores from their gills as part of their reproductive cycle. They do this when they are under threat or run out of food. They’re invaluable to the eco system as they are instrumental in breaking down organic matter in the decomposition cycle.
COMMON VARIETIES YOU CAN GROW AT HOME
It’s easiest to start off your mushroom growing career with a home kit to get the feel of it. You can end up using the mushroom mycelium from your kit to start your own outdoor colonies later though. There are many delicious varieties of mushrooms, but some need to be collected in the wild as they cannot be cultivated.
Easier varieties to try at home would be:
• Portabellas and white button mushrooms
Cultivating mushrooms involves getting hold of the spore or spawn from a dealer and inoculating it into your growing medium. Spores are like the seeds and spawn like seedlings. It’s easier to start off with spawn if you are inexperienced.
For simplicities sake, we’ll take a look at cultivating one of the easier mushies indoors – the Oyster mushroom. This a delectable mushroom with a mild taste, with tougher stems but a soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture towards the gills. The basic principles would be the same for the other cultivars mentioned here.
• Oyster mushrooms grow on sterilized straw and sawdust
• Another medium that will appeal to you greenies out there is using recycled coffee grounds (they have already been through a pasteurization process and are packed with nutrients)
• Spores can also be inoculated into outdoor logs such as freshly cut hardwood logs. This method is a little more dicey and can take longer to bear fruit.
Mushrooms really need a sterile environment to grow and not go mouldy. To make sure your straw is sterile, dampen it and then pop it in the microwave or oven for a few minutes (do not leave unattended and beware of fire!). Before you work with your spores or spawn be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, all the way up to your elbows. Also make sure that any containers you use, such as old milk or ice-cream cartons are well cleansed with soap and water.
Containers such as cardboard milk cartons, ice-cream tubs including the lid, or a container bag specially sold for cultivation will do the trick. Milk cartons are good as oysters like to sprout from a vertical perspective as if they were on a tree.
MIX IT UP
In a clean bowl, mix your spawn into your growing medium – sawdust or coffee grounds, then pack it into the container or bag and seal. A recommended ratio is 500g of oyster mushroom spawn to each 2.5kg of spent coffee grounds or sawdust.
KEEP IT WARM
Keep your spawn in a warm, dark place, such as cupboard or under a bed, and over 3 weeks you’ll see it spawning in the growing medium, turning the mixture white if you used coffee grounds. If you find the contents have gone green, you’ll need to throw out and start again as it means it’s gone mouldy (that’s why you need to be so fussy with hygiene from the start).
INTO THE LIGHT
Cut 4 x 5mm holes in the sides of your container for the mushies to sprout out of. Place them on a windowsill or somewhere with fresh air and a shady spot with a little light (not direct sunlight). Spray the cut opening area twice a day – they love humidity so keep it nicely moistened.
It should take another week for little baby mushrooms to appear, and grow a little each day into specimens you will be able to harvest for some delectable cuisine. With Oyster mushrooms, when the edge of the cap starts turning in, you can cut it off at the base of the stem to harvest. Use a knife to cut them off and keep the mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge for up to a week.
Growing your own mushrooms is a truly extraordinary and satisfying experience and the fruits of your fun are delicious and nutritious. A Mushroom Factory also makes a great gift idea. To maintain your mushroom factory, all you have to do is add water, a bit of light, and love.
Check out our Grow Your Own Oyster Mushrooms Kit as an easy way to get started. Why not surprise a green-fingered loved one or the resident gourmet chef in your life with the gift of something a little more unusual to grow?