Mushrooms are turning into big business in both the UK & the USA.
Sales and prices are up, and growers are struggling to keep up with demand. This is thought to be due to an increasing number of people moving to a plant-based diet. Mushrooms are an obvious meat alternative. Even if you don't favour a plant based diet though, mushrooms are fat-free, low calorie, low sodium and gluten free, delicious, nutritious and available all year round. So the reasons are stacking up to try and grow your own.
Button mushrooms remain the most commonly eaten variety, But demand is picking up for specialty varieties, such as shiitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms.
Despite being a much used ingredient, mushrooms are not an everyday crop in your average garden. If you are nervous of wild foraging but long to harvest mushrooms then growing your own gives the reassurance of getting safe, delicious mushrooms without the chance of the poisonous or mind altering effects.
Mushrooms are perennial organisms that can live for decades, and have two distinct parts.
Underground, a web of threadlike hyphae known as mycelium cover an often huge area, absorbing nutrients and powering the fungi.
Above ground is the visible fruit which is the reproductive organs - the bit we eat.
Which Variety of Mushrooms to Grow
If you have been given a mushroom growing kit for Christmas then the choice of which mushroom to grow has already been made for you. However, if you are planning your own mushroom growing adventure then what variety do you choose?
If you're a beginner, start out by growing Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) The Oyster Mushroom mycelium grows vigorously and will survive a wide range of temperatures so it is easy to grow.
Another great choice is Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes). These are both easy to grow and taste great and will save you ££££s at the supermarket as they are often sold dried and a little more pricey than your ordinary button mushroom.
Your methods and materials are other factors to consider. You can grow mushrooms on manure, wood, straw, paper or compost. Certain species do better on certain substrates, and matching them up is essential to a good crop.
Plant: all year round but temperature should be between 10° and 18° Beyond this the key consideration is when you are planning on starting and harvesting. Different mushrooms fruit in different seasons, so matching your mushroom to its preferred season will give you the best success.
There are different ways of buying the spawn but the basic steps for growing mushrooms are the same for all
- Choose your substrate - dependent on your mushroom variety.
- Add the mushroom spawn - known as inoculation.
- Moisten and keep at the correct temperature for the mycelium to start to grow.
- Change the environmental conditions to trigger fruiting - usually by dropping the temperature and increasing the humidity.
- Wait until fruits are big enough and harvest.
You can get the spawn in a number of forms.
- In plugs or impregnated dowels - hammer these directly into a piece of wood. You can not use old wood. Cut the logs to use fresh (within 6 weeks) from disease-free healthy living trees. Logs should be around 50 cm or 1 metre in length with a diameter from 10 to 30 cm. The type of mushroom chosen dictates how wide your log needs to be and how many plugs you'll need. The instructions that come with your plug will guide you.
- Grain - sprinkle this onto manure or between the damp pages of a book. (A great way to recycle your Yellow Pages!) before wrapping in a plastic bag until the mycelium start to grow.
- Blocks - planted in the ground, particularly good for under trees. These can be planted round the roots of trees or under a patch of turf in your lawn. You will not be able to mow there and it should be an area where there is little traffic as the mycelium don't like compacted ground.
- Mushroom growing kits - these are a great way to start and come with the appropriate growing medium. Often this is on straw which has been pre-sterilised so that you know the only fungus you are growing is the one you planned to grow. It may even be pre inoculated with the mushroom spawn or you may have to add this yourself before moistening and keeping warm until the mycelium have started to grow.
Where to Grow
Mushrooms grow in the shade in buckets or shallow planters, in the green house or the shed, or outside in the lawn, beneath trees or on the edge of the compost heap.
Many people think that mushrooms need to be grown in the dark. This is a myth and the truth is that mushrooms lack the ability to use energy from the sun. They do not have chlorophyll so are not green plants. Therefore they can grow in the dark or light as their energy does not come from the sun but from its growing medium. They do however, need to remain moist, not wet or dry, at all times and it is easier to achieve this in a shady spot.
Mushrooms are a great source of non animal protein, and one of the only foods that you can eat happily for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are very low in calories and a great addition to many recipes. They are also a lot of fun to grow so well worth trying. For a tasty way to enjoy them why not try this dish?
War Time Mushrooms
Cut up one clove of garlic and add it to a frying pan of melted butter. Cut up a large handful of your home grown mushrooms and add to the pan. Fry until brown, tip onto a piece of toast and eat hot. Simple but delicious.