How to Grow ( Delicious) Mushrooms in Your Garden
In a lot of ways it’s no different from growing some of the easier vegetables: plant in a good place. Wait, being patient and hoping for rain. Harvest crop.
But of course there are a few fine points, elucidated here in a guest post by our resident mushroom expert.
Growing Mushrooms in Your Garden
If you like to eat mushrooms, and would like to gather them fresh, along with your vegetables, now is the time to consider inoculating a piece of your garden. You can easily fit a patch on one of your paths or tuck it into a mulched weed barrier. Here is how.
First find yourself some fruiting Stropharia rugusoannulata , aka the winecap.
If there is an easier mushroom than this to grow I certainly don’t know it. At the moment – mid May 2009 – it is fruiting, not only in our garden, along with the asparagus, but in heaps of wood chips throughout the area. Look and ye shall find: under the Rhododendron or Azaleas or roadside in the piles of wood chips thrown there by the power line maintenance crews. If you get really hard up, try one of the green composting facilities like the one behind Vassar College in Poughkeepsie NY . Or purchase some ready to grow mycelium ( the underground “roots” of the mushroom) from Fungi Perfecti.
I first became acquainted with this mushroom in 1984, finding it in the Cary Arboretum Rhododendron and Lilac gardens. The plant scientists at the arboretum had never seen it before, nor had I, but it was very easy to identify.
When I checked Gary Lincoff’s description of the mushroom (The Audubon Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, p. 729) I was struck by his comment, “This flavorful edible can be gathered week after week on compost or wood chips, where it produces hundreds of large, firm, fleshy mushrooms.” So I just grabbed a handful of mycelium and stuck it around under the base of a pile of wood chips near the barn, sort of like sweeping dirt under a rug. . Nothing could have been simpler. They grew just as he said they would, and have become part of my garden routine ever since.
The following is how I described the process in 2001 for Mushroom; The Journal of Wild Mushrooming. The editors, with wry humor, subtitled the piece “With some effort this spring, you’ll be able to go on mushroom walks ON your “mushroom walks”. Since the MTJ articles have not been digitized, I include this one in full, along with suitable images and comments from our recent garden activities.
Raising Stropharia on your paths. (Issue 74, Vol. 20, No.1 Winter 2001-02 MTJ)
There comes a time in mid summer when without rain both the land and imagination become parched. It seems as if there might never be another mushroom. Thoughts of roaming forests and fields wither. Plans for collecting never germinate. Dust and heat desiccate the soul. In such a year August is the cruelest month!
So it was last summer. Dry and empty. Then in mid-September a brief shower, the first in nearly four months, and suddenly in a wood chip path of my garden moist bumps appeared. In a day they turned into large umbos, silvery gray with lilac gills, a double ragged ring, white rhizomorphs rooting from the base of the stipe into rich mycelium which cemented the path together – Stropharia rugusoannulata!
More emerged with each subsequent shower. A good peck and a half appeared with the first tropical downpour to drench the area, but only some of my paths responded to these rains, the ones that got the dog food.
As is my custom, I double dig my gardens, enriching the soil every fall by incorporating mounds of leaf litter and manure from a crew of willing horses and sheep. I make large heaps of soil and organic matter in November when the garden is put to sleep, and often incorporate into this stew the decomposed wood chips of my paths. The paths get dug under every two years or so, after the Stropharia which had been previously introduced has had a chance to run its course.
Spawn is collected in the spring from active flushes (selectively available throughout the area where road crews have dumped their chips). I just take a garden fork and lift up the soil, mycelium, sporocarps and all, and stuff it into a plastic garbage bag that is then hauled to my garden and dumped into the new path.
I do this in May when the Stropharia fruit. It generally takes a full year for my paths to produce, and I can usually count on another, smaller crop the second spring as well.
It is in the second fall that I scrape the path down to mineralized soil, pitching the remains of the wood chips and remaining mycelium into the giant compost piles where, in theory, it aids in the breakdown of the leaf matter over the winter. (I have also learned to pass a lawnmower over the leaves as I heap them onto/into the piles. By spring this preparation is ready for redistribution and planting, “Black Gold” according to some.)
This spring (2001) when the new paths were set out, I tried something a little different with the inoculant – in some paths I mixed in some dog food soup with the Stropharia mycelium. I recalled hearing once in a microbiology lab that boiled dog food was a good substitute for Bengal Rose agar as a culturing medium, so I reasoned that a little dry dog food sloshed around in some warm water and dumped into the path might give my Stropharia inoculant a boost.
Nothing fancy, certainly no sterile techniques, no autoclave, not even boiling water. After all there is dirt and contamination everywhere.
The technique is simple: strip the path down to the mineralized soil, throw the inoculant along the path, cover with a thin layer of wood chips, then the dog food soup (a couple hands full of Senior blend soaked in a 5-gallon bucket of warm water with a few mature mushroom caps thrown in), followed by a 4-inch layer of wood chips. It is now a path. Walk on it.
Stem butts, clumps of mycelium , and bits of mushrooms are laid on, in and next to the cardboard.
Since the only paths which produced mushrooms in the rains of that September (2001) were the ones enriched with the dog food, I am assuming that this technique may have been responsible. It is the first (and only) time I have coaxed up a flush of Stropharia in only four months, and in a very dry year to boot. So, here’s some food for thought, and another possible take on the “Dog Days of August”.
(In a replication of that 2001 experiment, one arm of our 2009 weed barrier bed shown above was enhanced with some cat food soup; one without. Results may be available by fall. Stay tuned.)*
In the years since this MTJ article ran, Paul Stametes published a dandy book, Mycelium Running, replete with simple mushroom growing techniques. You will want to own it if you intend to grow your own mushrooms. By way of contrast to the simplicity of the rough and ready techniques described above, you might like to check out the sophisticated techniques and industry standards here. Whew!!!
Other mushrooms beside Stropharia will undoubtedly come to live in your bed. The one most likely to be confused with rugusoannulata is Agrocybe dura, another common, mulch-loving, spring mushroom. It can be found in most field guides. It is not recommended for the table.
Stropharia rugusoannulata: that’s how we grow them. It’s up to Leslie to tell you how to cook them.
* Update, 4/28/10:
No Stropharia in either the cat food or control bed were noticed last fall. A good flush did come up in the established beds however.
This spring, the cat food bed wins paws down.
On April 29th as I was about to cut the grass I noticed Stropharia along the edge and in the cat food bed. In this 20 foot cat food bed there turned out to be at least 9 Stropharia fruiting, some apparently for a few days.
In the similar bed planted without cat food none were found. Along the established paths/beds within the garden 5 Stropharia were found.
CAT FOOD CONTROL ESTABLISHED
ENRICHED BORDER BORDER PATH/BED
20 SQUARE FEET 20 SQUARE FEET 230 SQUARE FEET
9 MUSHROOMS, or NO MUSHROOMS 5 MUSHROOMS, or
one mushroom per 2.2 sq. ft. one mushroom per 46 sq. ft.
THE CAT FOOD BED WAS 21 TIMES MORE PRODUCTIVE THAN THE ESTABLISHED BED.