If you want to grow something new this year that provides a good value for the time and effort invested, consider growing mushrooms. “Gourmet” mushrooms—that is, anything that’s not the white button commonly found at grocery stores—can be pricey and hard to find. If you grow your own, however, you can have a variety of mushrooms at your disposal that range from delicate to meaty and can be edible as well as medicinal. The number of options can be overwhelming if you’re just getting started in mushroom cultivation. As you begin narrowing down your selection, keep these ideas in mind to choose the right mushrooms to grow on your farm.
First things first: Consider the environmental conditions of where you plan to grow your mushrooms. Most mushrooms perform best in high humidity (80 to 95 percent) and indirect light, but each species has its own set of growing preferences.
A good place to start on your mushroom selection journey is to decide whether to grow them indoors or out. If growing outside, consider the the seasonality of the particular species that interests you. Many mushroom-spawn retailers, including Fungi Perfecti and Field and Forest Products, offer seasonality charts based on regions of the country. Keep in mind that mushrooms grown outdoors often take longer to fruit, but they might produce mushrooms for several years.
If growing mushrooms indoors, such as in a grow room or grow house, you have more control over the environment and can fine-tune the conditions accordingly, though this might require that you invest in equipment, such as a humidifier, fan or air-conditioning unit.
Not all mushrooms “eat” the same thing, so you must offer each mushroom its growing medium of choice. Common growing mediums—known as substrates in the mushroom world—include logs, straw, wood chips and coffee grounds. The type you choose might depend on access to supplies and the space you have available.
Often associated with shiitake mushrooms, logs can be used to grow a number of different types of mushrooms, including oyster, nameko, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake. Use freshly cut wood for mushroom-growing purposes, as fallen trees or deadwood have a greater chance at being inoculated with wild fungi, thus limiting your production potential. If you live on a wooded property and are clearing trees for timber stand improvement, consult a spawn retailer to learn what mushroom is best suited to that type of wood. For example, shiitakes love oaks while lion’s mane will grow well on sugar maple. Stumps can also be used for mushroom cultivation, though they might not be as productive as logs.
Straw is the optimal substrate for growing oyster mushrooms and is perfect for a novice grower, even if located in an urban home or apartment. Straw must be pasteurized first by drenching it in boiling water, and it performs best if chopped first. Then you can add the straw to a container, such as a cardboard box, and place it in a room with minimal light.
Wood chips can be used for decomposer mushrooms, such as wine cap stropharia and blewit. While I suppose any old pile of wood chips could work, consider growing wine caps on the mulch in your garden. In fact, some growers report inoculating their gardens and yards to the point where the mushrooms come up year after year. When starting mushrooms on wood chips, make sure the batch is at least 40 percent hardwood aged no more than three years.
This is a fun substrate for beginners, as it’s easy to obtain and prep—just get fresh grounds from your local coffee shop. Oyster mushrooms and sometimes nameko can be grown on coffee grounds, as well as on spent brewer’s grain. There’s no need to pasteurize the coffee grounds prior to use, as the brewing process does that for you.
Ease of Growth
Mushrooms differ in their growing quirks, so choose a species suited to your skill level. If you’re a beginner, try oyster, shiitake, lion’s mane or wine cap. Those who have a little more experience can try reishi or nameko, but leave species like blewit and maitake to the pros.
Finally, grow mushrooms you know you’ll like to use. Consider their flavor, how well they hold up while cooking, how long they keep after harvest and whether they have medicinal properties. Here are some profiles of mushroom favorites:
- Shiitakes can be used as a culinary as well as a medicinal mushroom, fresh or dried. They have a smokey, full-bodied flavor, and you needn’t worry about overcooking them, as they hold up well.
- Oysters are tender and delicate and come in different colors based on the variety. These need to be used right after harvest, as they go bad quickly.
- Wine caps are large, meaty mushrooms with a mild nutty flavor. They substitute well for portobello mushrooms in recipes.
- Maitake, aka hen of the woods, have a rich, savory, umami flavor.
- Lion’s mane mushrooms are medicinal as well as edible. They are meaty with a crab-like flavor.
- Reishis are bitter and used purely for medicinal purposes to support immune health.
As you venture into the world of mushroom cultivation, have fun and explore your options. There are many different species and growing methods you can try, so find out what works best for you and your farm.