Mushroom Cultivation: Gardeners’ Best-Kept Secrets

Fungi provide valuable soil nutrients, encourage beneficial microbial life, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Mushroom cultivation also can be a great way to recycle yard and garden debris.

Whether you’re using logs, stumps, or a bed of straw or wood chips, the key is to keep the growing substrate moist. Depending on the species, some require partial sun exposure while others do best in shady areas.

1. Keep the Soil Moisturized

Mushrooms love dappled sunlight and cool soil, but they need ample moisture to grow. You can help the mushrooms by keeping the soil as moist as possible, especially if you use a mulch that decomposes slowly. Many mushroom cultivators use a mix of grass clippings, worm castings and/or mushroom compost in the garden beds. These materials keep the soil from drying out too quickly and provide valuable organic matter that helps improve the quality of the soil.

A humidifier in the garden also can help keep the soil moist and encourage mushroom growth. You can buy one that’s designed for growing mushrooms, or you can try a general purpose humidifier that has an ultrasonic mister.

Another way to keep the soil moist is to add a layer of mulch to the garden bed. Mulch also helps keep the soil from drying out too quickly and provides a natural habitat for mushrooms. You can make your own mulch by mixing grass clippings, worm castings or mushroom compost with the existing soil in the garden.

If you aren’t comfortable with the appearance of mushrooms in your garden, you can control them by removing them before they spread their spores. Mushroom spores spread easily through the air, so you’ll need to wear gloves when digging them out of the ground. You can put the mushrooms in a garbage bag and toss them in an outside bin, but be sure not to put them in your compost pile, where they may return to fruit again.

It’s not always easy to control the amount of moisture in the soil, especially when growing crops in open fields or in a greenhouse. It’s best to amend the top 6 to 12 inches of the soil with grass clippings, worm castings, mushroom compost or straw to improve its ability to retain moisture. You can test the soil’s moisture level by sinking a trowel into it; it should be damp, but not soaking wet.

2. Keep the Mushrooms Clean

Mushrooms add savory flavor and textural interest to everything from meaty main dishes to soups and stews. And the versatile fungi are a tasty source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms are available year round at grocers and farmers markets, and home cultivation is easy for anyone with the right conditions.

To cultivate mushrooms, prepare a suitable substrate such as compost or sawdust. Then inoculate the material with mushroom spawn and spread it evenly across the surface. Cover the substrate with a layer of casing, such as a mix of garden soil and ground limestone or peat moss. Water the substrate to keep it moist but not soggy. Then wait for the white threadlike mycelium to appear, which is the mycelia forming the fruiting bodies that are harvested as mushrooms.

Cookbooks often advise against washing mushrooms so that their savory essence won’t get diluted or the texture turned rubbery. But the reality is that most types of mushrooms contain a lot of water to begin with, and a short rinse won’t significantly alter their flavor or make them soggy.

A good way to wash mushrooms is to use a clean, lint-free towel or gentle brushing instead of a heavy flow of water. But even this approach isn’t foolproof: Mushrooms are a delicate fungi that can soak up water fairly easily, and they tend to absorb it more quickly than a lot of other produce.

If you’re growing your own mushrooms, sterilize the growing medium in advance of inoculation and regularly scrub and disinfect surfaces that touch your mushrooms or their spawn. Be especially attentive to cleaning morels, since they can harbor dirt in their honeycomb-like folds and crevices.

For those eager to delve into the world of mushroom cultivation without the hassle of sourcing individual components, Shroom growing kits offer a convenient solution. These kits provide all the necessary ingredients and instructions to kickstart your mushroom-growing journey effortlessly. With Shroom growing kits, aspiring cultivators can dive straight into the rewarding process of nurturing their own fungi, bypassing the complexities of sourcing materials and preparing substrates.

3. Keep the Mushrooms Healthy

When you’re ready to harvest mushrooms, look for fresh, vibrant, clean specimens. Avoid mushrooms that are wrinkled, soggy or spongy, or have dark spots. These signs indicate that they’ve spoiled and should be used as soon as possible.

To help maintain healthy mushrooms, keep the growing environment cool and dry. This helps prevent mold and keeps the fungus happy and productive, so it can continue releasing spores and growing more fruiting bodies.

Mushrooms need to be kept away from direct sunlight. This isn’t because of photosynthesis (that’s a plant thing) but because the light can cause mushrooms to spawn prematurely and produce too many baby mushroom clusters. Not all of these will mature, so the fungus has to focus its energy on a few of them, leaving other clusters undeveloped.

Some fungi, like the oyster mushroom, grow best on hardwood logs such as oak, maple, and elm; while others, including the wine cap, grow well on softwoods such as pine, spruce, or fir. When growing on wood, it’s also important to make sure that the log or stump is completely clean and has no other fungal growth.

Mushrooms are easy to grow in containers at home or in the garden, and they’re delicious in salads, soups, stews, and omelets. They’re great for adding an earthy flavor to meat dishes and are a healthy addition to a vegetarian diet.

If you want to keep your mushrooms healthy and palatable, be sure to store them properly. Avoid using plastic bags that cling to your fungi and prevent them from breathing; these types of containers can encourage moisture build-up and spoilage. Instead, use a paper bag or a container that allows for air flow. And don’t wash the mushrooms before putting them away; the extra moisture will cause them to soak up water and become mushy, or even develop mold.

A dark storage area is also important for mushrooms. They are sensitive to light and will deteriorate quickly. Keeping them in a dark spot, like the back of your fridge, will help them stay fresher for longer.

You can grow mushrooms in a wide variety of substrates, including compost, straw, sawdust, or wood logs. However, it’s best to use a hardwood substrate because it’s easier for the mycelium to form fruiting bodies on a hard surface than on softwoods, which can impede the spore development needed to produce mushrooms.

Alternatively, you can also inoculate the logs or stumps with mushroom spawn. The spawn acts as a type of top-dressing and helps the mushroom’s root system colonize and produce fruiting bodies. The spawn can be purchased in grain or sawdust form, and can be inoculated in a wide variety of lumber–although some species of mushroom prefer specific types of wood, such as oak, maple, ash, or hickory.

To inoculate the lumber, you will need a tool called a mushroom spatula. This is a small tool with an angled edge that allows you to poke into the log without breaking the surface of it. You will also need a bag of sawdust, grain, or other material that is the same color as the log you’re inoculating.

4. Keep the Mushrooms Fertile

In addition to the right moisture, mushrooms also require certain nutrients. This is because they get their food from organic matter in the soil, as well as through their own mycelial networks. For this reason, it’s important to add compost or manure to the growing medium as needed to keep it rich.

Fungi are natural recyclers, breaking down and consuming everything from fallen branches and leaves to industrial waste. They help break down and enrich the soil and water, while providing valuable nutrients for plants and humans. In fact, many of the most recognizable mushroom varieties are considered mycorrhizal fungi, which require a symbiotic relationship with their host plant. This makes them challenging to cultivate without the help of Mother Nature.

Whether you want to grow gourmet or medicinal mushrooms, indoors or outdoors, there are many different species that can be grown at home. The best way to find out what is available in your area is to visit a local farmers market. You may be surprised at how diverse the selection is, from common button and oyster mushrooms to shiitake and lion’s mane.

Mushrooms don’t like the dryness of summer or the cold, hard frozen ground of winter, so it’s best to begin them in the spring, fall, or even early winter if you live in a temperate climate. Then you can transplant them to your in-ground garden or raised beds, which should be topped with a couple inches of organic material.

If you plan to grow your mushrooms on logs, be sure to use hardwood logs rather than conifers and drill holes just the size of the dowels. Once the dowels are in place, cover them with wax (preferably beeswax) to keep the logs moist.