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

By Bill Bakaitis

Consider planting Stropharia rugusoannulata in your garden this spring.

Consider planting Stropharia rugusoannulata in your garden this spring.

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.

From May through June Stropharia rugusoannulata can be found in a wood chip pile near you.

From May through June Stropharia rugusoannulata can be found in a wood chip pile near you.

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.

Collecting spawn is as simple as digging up a forkful of mushrooms, wood chips, mycelium and soil included.

Collecting spawn is as simple as digging up a forkful of mushrooms, wood chips, mycelium and soil included.

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.

Strip the soil from the intended bed. In this case a mulched weed barrier on the outside of our garden fence.

Strip the sod from the intended bed. In this case a mulched weed barrier on the outside of our garden fence.

A layer of soaked cardboard, an additional weed barrier and a Paul Stametes recommended enhancement is laid as a foundation.

A layer of soaked cardboard, an additional weed barrier and a Paul Stametes recommended enhancement, is laid as a foundation.

 Stem butts, clumps of mycelium , and bits of mushrooms are laid on, in and next to the  cardboard.


Stem butts, clumps of mycelium , and bits of mushrooms are laid on, in and next to the cardboard.If you already have your paths in place try inserting stem butts or mycelium right into the established path.

Our finished weed barrier mushroom bed.  Wood chips, freely available from transfer and recycling centers, are used to cover the bed. In my experience mixed hardwood chips work best.

If you already have your paths in place try inserting stem butts or mycelium right into the established path.

If you already have your paths in place try inserting stem butts or mycelium right into the established path.

Stropharia patches should be maintained by annual additions of fresh wood chips.

Stropharia patches should be maintained by annual additions of fresh wood chips.

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.

Agrocybe dura is a non-edible, easily identified, contaminant of our mulched beds.

Agrocybe dura is a non-edible, easily identified, contaminant of our mulched beds.

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.


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  • Absolutely excellent information Leslie. Thanks to Bill, I’m a lot less intimidated by mushrooms. I’ve never grown them and they have always been mysterious to me. I guess some of my “fear” is that I’ve always been hesitant to try any mushrooms growing wild because I don’t know if they are toxic or not. I shouldn’t throw all the babies out with the bath water though.

    Fantastic photos. I will have to link to this post soon. I’m sure more people will appreciate the information.
    Shirley Bovshow

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Shirley,

    I am sure that you are not alone in fearing both the collecting and consuming of wild mushrooms. This is a very healthy fear as some are toxic and can make you sick to your stomach and a few can cause death. Some, of course, are quite delicious and eagerly sought for the table, but most, it is fair to say, are what the French would call ‘non -comestible’; non edible for various reasons.

    There are thousands of species of fungi around, and it is also fair to say that no one knows them all. The safe way to move amongst them all is to move slowly, get to know one or two a season, perhaps watching them for a year or two before commiting them to the test of your own biology. Always check them out in reliable field guides (plural as the opinion of various authors differ and the state of knowledge does change.) Join one of the local Mycological Clubs and go out on walks with them.

    In some ways it is similar to bird watching. Many of us can’t distinguish among many sparrows and certainly not the appropriatly named confusing fall warblers, but we all can tell a Crow from a Robin. So too with mushrooms; some are difficukt to distinguish, some are quite easy. Start with the easy ones and if you really get interested you can spend a lifetime attempting to know them all.

    Most casual mushroomers limit their collections to a dozen or so easily identified species. Some of these have been featured in previous blogs. Stropharia rugosoannulata is well marked and once you become comfortable with the color variation of the fading cap you won’t mistake it for anything else. It will become as familiar to you as that Robin that hops across your lawn.

    Have fun collecting tis season,

    Bill Bakaitis

  • Bob Scott Said,

    Am new to mushrooming, have interest in outdoor culture as well as gathering the native ones. I live in the Mississippi River bottoms and I have periodic spring floods to contend with. The house is on stilts but the yard is periodically inundated. Last spring water was six feet deep in the yard; so far this year onley a few inches on the east side of the yard. Anyway am wondering what effect (good or bad) periodic flooding will have on outdoor mushrooms other than that plugged logs will float away if not tied down.
    Went on first foray with Arkansas Mycological last weekend 05-30-09 and learned a lot. ‘Looking foreward to further adventures.
    Oh!, by the way the article is terrific.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Bob,

    Welcome to the blog – and to mycology!

    Your yard sounds pretty challenging, but where there is water there are fungi, so there’s bound to be SOMETHING interesting, even if it isn’t edible.

    I’ve alerted Bill to your comment and am sure he’ll respond before long. When it came in he’d “gone fishing,” literally, and there’s nothing more important than that.

    In the meantime, if you haven’t read his other mushroom posts, you might enjoy them too. Just use the search button for “Bakaitis” and it should pull them up.

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Bob,

    Well, let me second Leslie’s welcome to the world of mushrooming. There certainly is always something to see, find, learn in this “Fifth Kingdom”.

    I thought about your question yesterday as I was driving to the Beaverkill in the Catskills where I went fishing. It is intriguing, and if I had not been a teacher would simple have said, “Gee, I don’t know what effect periodic flooding has on fungal life”, but my students taught me that a ((n) educated?) guess was much much more satisfying than the raw unadorned truth, so here goes. An invention of sorts, a hypothesis for Bob, on the way to the river…

    My guess is that rapid changes in environmental conditions, such as periodic flooding, will probably eradicate a wide range of fungi not adapted to the extremes, but facilitate, what might be called ‘weed fungi’, those able to live in a wide variety of habitats.. Specifically, I think you might see many more saprophytes, those that feed on dead leaves and wood, like Psathyrella and Coprinus (which flourish in the rich manure laded humus of our garden in spite of the flooding of the manure piles (at the Horse farm) and the “100 year floods” that have ravished our flood-plain garden plot three times in the past decade.

    I am sure that your mushroom experts at the local forays will have great information on what to expect down south.

    My guess though is that the fungi most facilitated by periodic flooding will be the filamentous and mold- like fungi which will cause an almost invisible ‘soft’ rot. These ‘lower fungi’ do not form mushrooms, but often make zillions of spores or simple break apart into small segments able to reproduce on their own in short, non-sexual cycles. Like all fungi, however, they digest their food source outside of their cell walls by enzymatic decay.

    These fungi have become more widely publicized since the flooding in New Orleans, but archeologists have been keenly aware of the damage caused by periodic soaking and drying cycles for years. Under these conditions the carbonaceous artifacts they seek will rot away much faster than if kept in either a continually soaked, or dry state..

    But, having said all of that, I remember the year that Leslie and I collected morels by the basket in a depression that in previous years had been a stream bed flowing through the abandoned apple orchard. They appeared there just once, in that dry spring.

    As she said, there is always SOMETHING interesting, and in this case it was spectacularly edible.

    Good question. Good Luck,


  • caglar Said,

    It is a really helpful information about mushrooms. I live in a village and mushromms are very important for us,
    there is also a very useful guide that i got great informatin about mushrooms:

  • Tatiana Said,

    How cool is that – I’m from Russia where mushroom gathering is a common, time honored activity, and my family goes out every year to gather buckets and buckets of wild mushrooms in the nearby forests.

    Every summer we pickle, salt cure, dry and freeze pounds of them to last the entire winter. I find many people are amazed at the skill, which is really nothing more than the gathering behavior humans have indulged in since our appearance on the planet. But I digress.

    It would be incredibly cool to grow mushrooms, and after I master basic veggies, I may just give it a try.

    • So glad to hear about your family gathering mushrooms in the woods. My Slovak and German parents did the same with us. Dried mushrooms are my favorite. Sadly our harvesting sites are now developed housing areas.

      Hi there Patricia —

      so glad to hear about YOUR family gathering mushrooms too. I sympathize about the sites; the same thing keeps happening to us. Vexing to have to hunt for good spots as well as for the fungi, but fortunately both are still out there and here comes the season. Good luck!

  • Matt Anderson Said,

    Hi Bill, I just wanted to give you an update (or perhaps more data) on our wine cap experiment. We cheated a little bit and ordered a bag of spawn from Field and Forest Products. I followed your inoculation recipe and low and behold, cat food + hardwood chips = wine caps. It works very well. I got a small flush after only 3 months! I used about 1 yard of hardwood chips per the recommendation of Field and Forest Products (25 square feet). I bought a truck load for a whopping $10 at Darling Sand and Gravel in Stanfordville. There was enough for 2 inoculations (Greg inoculated some too). We inoculated in May and yesterday morning a flush of wine caps appears after our recent rain. I’ll have to ask Greg how his are doing. I’m pleased too see a small flush, but a couple slugs found them faster than me.

    thanks for the info! Matt.

    P.S. Because we have 2 dogs who appreciate cat food just as much as the wine cap spawn does, I had to put a short nuisance fence around the chips which kept them out of there all summer.

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